Roadburn 2024: Notes From Day One

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 19th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Roadburn welcomes you.

Before 2PM writing start. Check-in at the 013, easy, the ideal. Head up to the office, coffee, a bit of sitting around, loosely productive chatting. Some quick writing that hopefully turned out to be complete sentences. Nice to feel helpful.

Merch opened at noon. I arrived at Koepelhal about 20 minutes after and it was crammed as expected. Inching forward and imagining the shirts selling out, more urgent in my head than in real life, to be sure. I don’t even know how many lines — more of a congregation. Label stalls over there, band merch, etc. Soundcheck wubbing through from wherever. Come on, man. Live a little.

Back to the hotel after to drop off purchases — tote and hoodie for The Patient Mrs. acquired as requested, along with a tshirt for myself —Roadburn merch and charge the phone for a few minutes, then up to Koepelhal again in time for The Terminal stage to open. The sign above, “Roadburn welcomes you,” outside as you walk up to the building. Trying to breathe that in slowly.

I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to format the next few days of writing. Might just make words? Crazy thought, I know. The festival starts in about 15 minutes and I can feel it in my nervous blood. Slow down the brain, remember where you are. This used to be easier. Was never as easy as the check-in this morning. I’ll get the camera out in a bit. Fidget fidget. Are the batteries in of course the batteries are in. That kind of thing.

Lights come down, room fills up. The space is set up differently than last time I was here. I like that as a running theme. For what it’s worth — and in my estimation, that’s just about everything — I do feel welcome, and have since the moment I ran into Walter yesterday n the hotel lobby and ended up sitting down to the end of breakfast. I like that as a running theme as well.

Okay, Roadburn. Let’s see how this goes.

Hexvessel are a quintessential Roadburn band in my mind, and yes that’s a compliment. They were doing last year’s black-metal-adjacent Polar Veil (review here) in full, and thinking about past times I’ve seen them here, it brings to mind how broad their scope has been but how each whim they follow is wrapped around an organic core of craft whether it’s woods-worship folk mourning, dark post-punk, psych-pop experimentalism or the blend of melody and char of this latest work. The fact that you don’t know what’s coming next until it’s happened, and Hexvessel 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)the way they bring everything they do into their sphere rather than playing to style — whatever style — makes them a fitting lead-in for who knows what the next few days will bring. I watched the whole set.

Sunrise Patriot Motion were going on 10 minutes later in the Engine Room, which is right next door to the Terminal, so I sauntered over, casual-like, to check out an act I knew nothing about but had heard were cool. Not quite as sad as Crippled Black Phoenix, but a not-dissimilar feel in their post-everything-but-not-too-cool-for-their-owm-songs approach, the keyboard probably more prominent for where I was standing and the vocals blown out to add some rawness to the gothy vibe. I don’t know where they’re from but their music is English as fuck. Beacon, New York. The lineup is half of Yellow Eyes, I’m told. Fair enough. Knowing the actual geography, I couldn’t help but hear some Type O in their slower parts, but I admit that’s more in my head than in their sound.

Some quickly fixed technical hiccup and they were back at it with little actual momentum disruption. Apparently it was their first show ever. Hope the second one lives up. They finished 37 minutes into a 40-minute slot and with a half-hour before Body Void back over in The Terminal — which is the bigger of the two connected Koepelhal spaces — I sat in back and purposefully let myself be in no rush to anywhere. Someone offered me beer as they were walking by — I guess I happened to be in the path of their generosity — but I don’t drink, so politely declined. When I was just about the last one in the Engine Room who wasn’t breaking down the stage, I decided to go find some water. I don’t know if it’ll last, but I like my low key approach so far. In my head, I’m calling it Freeburn as of like 30 seconds ago.Sunrise Patriot Motion (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Emphasis on ‘burn’ there as regards Body Void, who in performing their Atrocity Machine LP in full set alight grind and caustic sludge for a feedback and noise-drenched onslaught of extreme, churning disaffection. Harsh harsh harsh, but, you know, they’re probably super-nice people. I didn’t get mean vibes certainly as their bassist took a couple selfies during one of the breaks in the songs. Laced with synth for further noise drench, thudding with a pulse you could feel in the side of your head, and with screams cutting through to offer no comfort whatsoever, they were brutally life-affirming, a wave of self-declarative volume, music wielded as expression of self coincidental to self-expression. To call it inviting would be to undercut just how far they were pushing limits, so I’ll say that there was room for everybody in that slaughterhouse of sound.

A quick stop to see Andreas Kohl at his Exile on Mainstream both, big hugs, then walked back behind the warded off doings of the Koepelhal, took a cup from an errant pot of coffee, heard something like somebody sawing through metal — no competition for Body Void — and ended up by the art show space and re-met Maarten Donders, bought a couple prints from Vince “Cavum” Trommel, who had an 1860s printing press ready for a workshop tomorrow. Outside briefly and over to Hall of Fame for the start of Seán Mulrooney, 5:10PM in a deceptively quick passage of time for the day. People, places, music. Vibe is on. It’s one to the next, but the resonance of Mulrooney intoning “Slow down, do what you want” from Tau and the Drones of Praise’s “The Sixth Sun” might just be the key to my time here. I know enough now to know this might not come again. I never took Roadburn for granted, but I’ve missed it more than I understood, and maybe more than I wanted to understand.

I damn near wept as Mulrooney — who’s the type Body Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)of hippie folk troubadour that just might make a chorus out of the single word “osmosis” — brought out “Seanóirí Naofa” and “Ceol ón Chré,” fronting a four-piece solo-band built up around the initial duo of himself switching between guitar and piano with a stompbox for percussion along with standup bass. He’d get get to electric guitar in his time, but it was a quiet start that grew more outwardly vibrant, as he said it would. But while he wasn’t onstage alone by any means, it was his first solo show performed under his own name, and I sincerely doubt it will be the last. The crowd knew the Tau stuff, as they would given that the band played here, did the Roadburn Redux thing that non-year, etc., but if it seems like a stark contrast going from Body Void to Seán Mulrooney, he was no less a realization than they were, just working from a different point of view. Maybe I don’t have to tell you that.

Was hit by the old you-need-to-go-write itch as I stood there on front of the Hall of Fame stage, and I almost heeded it, but stopped myself before actually leaving my spot. That’s not how we’re doing Freeburn. Me and that bird that pecks at my compulsive brain with its gotta-remove-myself-from-a-thing-before-I-actually-start-enjoying-it beak go back a long way, but I’m glad it’s a habit I’m trying to break. If I only succeed in doing so one time this weekend, I’m glad it was for Mulrooney’s set, but his was the third full set of the day I saw, and that’s more than I’ve done in entire years at Roadburn.

A few more hellos en route to the fourth, which was Inter Arma back at The Terminator — that’s an autocorrect typo, but I’m leaving it because Inter Arma are nothing if not cybernetic organisms from the future sent to undo history by killing us all — as they presented their yet-unreleased New Heaven LP, which is out next week on Relapse. I’ve heard the record, in all its sweltering progressive death metal dissonance and encompassing crush, but they are aSean Mulrooney (Photo by JJ Koczan) particular beast live and I’ve put off really digging in until I saw it in-person. They should be playing art galleries, and not just for the theremin, but close enough at Koepelhal.

Every now and then they still lock in a doom groove, but they’ve been in obvious pursuit of their own thing as they’ve grown darker, more vicious and experimental in terms of their willingness to fuck around stylistically. Their last record was 2019’s Sulphur English (review here), and between you and me, I thought that was as far as they could go, but I’d sat down along the wall to write and stood back up when the harmonized leads and cleaner vocals — later on, they’d get Nick Cavey with voice and piano — started. So is New Heaven it? Maybe. Hell if I know, but I can’t think of anyone else who does what they do better, in, out or around progressive death metal, though I acknowledge I’m no expert. At the very least, it’s a new mark on their forward path, another reach into the threatening, staring-back void, and definitely enough to flatten an audience in the Netherlands most of whom haven’t heard it yet, so take it as you will.

I ate before the day started, finishing off the last of a half-pint of home-ground almond and pecan butter I brought with me, but hydrating had been trickier. I ran into Dennis and Jevin from Temple Fang, as well as Rolf from Stickman Records, saw Désirée from Lay Bare and chatted briefly, said hi to Jurgen from Burning World, hugged Amy Johnson, all of whom are very kind, nice people I’m glad to know. It had been posted on social media as well, but the Temple Fang guys let me know that Heath were doing a secret show at the skate park at 9:40, and my night got immediately more complex. They were on their way here or there, to piss first, I believe, so I hung back and by 8PM I could feel myself needing water if not more calorically complex sustenance. The line at the bar in the Engine Room meant it would have to wait until after I got whatever photos of White Ward I could and their set was properly underway. The Ukrainian black metallers have been four years in the making for Roadburn between the plague and the Russian invasion, and I didn’t want to miss it. I took my pictures, got two waters from the bar — however much they cost it was worth it — and was in much better spirits after for the scathing black metal catharsis that ensued, like tearing off your flesh to let your soul go. All that tension and release. Next time they’re here, and I have to imagine there will be one, they’ll probably play the main stage.

They took the stage as a four-piece and mentioned it was because one of their members had joined the military. I don’t know if that was voluntary or conscription, but it brought the ongoing conflict in and for White Ward’s home country into the room — it was there anyway — and showed it’s real for them in a way war never has been for me as an American.Inter Arma (Photo by JJ Koczan) War is a thing that happens elsewhere, exclusively, though there’s never a lack of random violence, whether repressive in nature or the woefully normalized mass shootings. In any case, despite being down a member, White Ward shredded the Engine Room into little tiny pieces with glorious intensity that extended even to the sampled sax over some of the songs, the piano, spoken sampling and such and sundry added to their core fury. Once again, I watched the full fucking set. I hope I do this all weekend.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but my heart said that going to see Heath at the skate park was a probably-once-in-a-lifetime chance and that even though I’d miss Chelsea Wolfe to do it — Roadburn means hard choices — I’d already had my one-per with Chelsea Wolfe, albeit brief, watching her and the band rehearse the night before in a group of five people in a room that holds well over a thousand, all that empty space filled with sound. So when White Ward finished, I made a right turn out of Koepelhal to get to the Hall of Fame, and from there, asked a helpful security guy where to go. Sure enough, the skatepark was closed but the doors had ‘there’s something secret happening here’ printed on them. A small group of people had gathered, and a couple minutes later we were let inside.

White Ward (Photo by JJ Koczan)Secret shows have become a Roadburn tradition, like commissioned pieces, the side programme, full-album sets. It’s part of the thing. There were three tonight, between Backxwash on the main stage at the 013 — a big deal — and Heath and Ontaard at the skate park. Like everything, there are arguments for and against the notion, but they add a chance for intimacy at an event where every room you stand in is most likely to be slammed with people, so I’ll take it when I can get it. And bonus, Heath were a hoot.

Some shuffle here, some grassy, pastoral psychedelia there, and a lot of classic prog rhythms topped off with in-on-the-jams harmonica from their frontman, who can both sing and keep up with the twisting riffs throughout their songs. Their debut album, Isaak’s Marble, is out next month. I’ll be interested to see how it’s received, but the songs, energy and spirit are there, and they looked like they were having fun playing the material live, whether it was breaking out the mallets for the drums, putting effects on the harmonica for the psych parts, trading solos between the two guitars or the builds and runs on bass. Fiery at their most upbeat, trance-inducing in their atmospheric stretches; I found myself recognizing parts from the record, which was even more encouraging, and digging the fact that they had more going for them as regards character than being young. Potential for growth and more than a little boogie to boot. There weren’t 100 people in the room, and I was very, very glad to be one of them.

They’re a band to tell your friends about,Heath (Photo by JJ Koczan) so here’s me telling you about them. None of the singles on their Bandcamp are on the album, which is on Suburban Records, but the title-track is on YouTube here. Happy travels.

I could’ve kept going after they finished — say it with me now: “I watched the whole set” — but it would’ve been an uphill push and that’s not the Freeburn way. I got back to the hotel a bit before 11, a little over 12 hours from when I left in the morning. Roadburn day one was a reminder of how special this time is to me, and I’m thankful to be here to be reminded. Thank you for reading. Sorry for the writing-on-my-phone typos.

More photos after the jump.

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Roadburn 2024: Travel & Ignition

Posted in Features on April 18th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Sonja at Ignition Roadburn 2024

04.17.24 – 4:49PM – Wed. – Hotel Mercure

I was the only one in the Sprinter van from the airport. Just me, the driver, and a sunny morning on the highway in Nederlands’ big-sky country headed out of Amsterdam to Tilburg. It was nice to recognize spots on the way into town, though there are some newer, taller buildings as well that I didn’t remember from five years ago when I was last here. Change is inevitable.

So far today, the weather here has been like the weather at home — insane. It has hailed twice and been coated in sunshine. My flight got in early, and passport control took about two minutes because I wasn’t entering the US and it was six-thirty in the morning. I grabbed a coffee and headed to where the car was going to pick me up by memory. That felt good, and not just the coffee.

The flight was a flight. I apparently got charged twice for what I thought was a free seat upgrade, but beyond that, the seat in front of me being so leaned back I had to watch bumping my head into it and having to restart A Link to the Past on my phone because I went to the Dark World too early — cheat code glitches on the emulator; nostalgia abounds — it was smooth enough. Empty seat next to me in the row of three, so I rate it as a positive experience. I’ve never enjoyed commercial air travel. It’s an unwelcome reminder that the world is not built for people of my general proportion. And I don’t think it’s something humans should have to pay for, but I also kind of feel that way about everything. No gods, no masters, no borders, no baggage fees.

Plane listening: Brume (yes, again), Lord Buffalo, The Keening, Iota, Sunnata, Greenleaf, then the headphones died. I should also count Type O Negative’s “Die With Me,” which I’ve been hearing in my head since boarding at the gate for KLM. I slept for about half an hour on the plane.

Later, After Ignition

Between Riot City’s more traditionalist approach delivered with duly non-sexagenarian vigor, Sonja’s more rock-infused NWOBHM riffing and Final Gasp’s hardcore-rooted moody-but-active take, it was a pretty metal evening out at Ignition, the free-entry pre-show for Roadburn Festival. Last time I was here, it was Hard Rock Hideout at Cul de Sac. Ignition had room for more people, and the people showed up to fill the space. Faces familiar and not in what I suspect will be a theme for the weekend, a couple “oh hi!”-type interactions between the bands, a bit of back and forth. I’d slept earlier in the afternoon, but I’m still in just-got-here mode, so no, I wasn’t hitting the mosh. I’ve always been pretty easily out-metaled anyhow.

But walking into the 013 again after five years was a trip. Next Stage, the old Green Room, is where the three bands were playing. The main stage area was closed off for the night, and downstairs was merch and the bar and DJ and so on. I went upstairs when Sonja were on, basically to take the above photo on my phone — I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted to do a more relaxed Roadburn — and it was also packed.

Riot City had acquitted themselves well in starting the show, well aligned with the metal of eld, their singer making Rob Halford screeches sound easy while strewing them liberally throughout the songs, thrash-informed but not necessarily as retro in sound as in their logo. Following up, Sonja were rawer on-stage than I’d expected them to be given the sound of their 2022 debut, Loud Arriver (review here), but physical force works with their style. I hung out with Lee from The Sleeping Shaman, with whom I’m also sharing my hotel room, for a bit, talking about old times and catching up since we last saw each other pre-pandemic, and honestly that experience was probably more what it was about for me tonight. Being here, getting to hang out at the 013, not trying to chase anything, the next thing, whatever it is. I don’t want to leave here next Monday feeling like I was so busy running around trying to take it all in that I missed it.

I’ve done that. And I’m not knocking it — Roadburns have been some of my best times, period — but I’m not lying when I say I didn’t ever think I’d be back here. This community and this time are special to me, and when it comes down to it, I have no trouble admitting Roadburn has been a part of shaping my perspective on music and art more generally, and the fest hasn’t even actually started and it already feels like a celebration. I’m lucky to be anywhere, but I’m especially lucky to be here right now.

Chelsea Wolfe was rehearsing on the main stage. I was able to watch for a few minutes with Lee, with Walter and Becky and Jaimy and a few others from the behind-the-scenes machine that makes the next few days happen. A small moment in the scope of those days to come, but one that I’ll remember, sitting on the steps up in the back of the room, just watching the lights and visuals, all also being tested out along with the sound, and a couple songs of what felt like a private show. I didn’t have to sneak in. It wasn’t clandestine. I was with friends. Sometimes I forget I have friends. Too often.

Roadburn starts tomorrow. No zine, but there’s a meeting tomorrow morning at the 013, some words to write/edit for secret show announcements and that sort of thing; stuff that, if I can help out with it, I’m happy to. Merch opens at noon. The Patient Mrs. wants a hoodie and a tote bag — she’s big on totes — so I’d best get on that. Then music. Hexvessel open at 2PM at the Terminal, which is the bigger Koepelhal stage, up the way from the 013. I will hope to see you there.

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Flying Out to Roadburn 2024

Posted in Features on April 16th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

View from gate

04.16.24 – 2:18PM EST – Tue. – JFK International Airport

Two hours to get to JFK, another three-plus before the flight takes off if it does so on time. Two snacky packs of almonds to my name and a bottle of water I filled from the fountain that just kind of dumps it on your hand. New Ufomammut on. I’m flying to Roadburn this evening. I’ll fucking live.

This is my first time making this trip in five years. Granted, plague, but still. I barely remember 2019 — to wit, I couldn’t tell you if I flew out of Newark or Boston to get to the Netherlands that long-ass half-decade ago, from which you’d be correct in extrapolating that I can’t remember when we moved back to New Jersey full-time. I could probably go back and look. Hang on. Boston. I flew back there as well, apparently. Wonder when I moved?

Doesn’t matter.

I have a pretty broad swath of memories of Roadburn from 2009 to 2019, almost all of them positive, so if you were to ask me what I’m nervous about, putting aside the general anxiety that goes with flying and/or leaving the house on any given early afternoon, I’m not sure I’d have a response for you. I had a telehealth — god I hate that word, but on the other hand, who wants to go to a doctor’s office ever — appointment with my neurologist yesterday. She told me to meditate, to work through things from my past that I feel like have held me back in the present, to rewrite my own narratives of my life. I’ve never been able to keep my mind still long enough to actually meditate, and I may or may not give it an earnest try — sitting still and concentrating on your breath is pretty low risk if you’re worried about broken bones; the only real risk is feeling silly to myself, which is a sad-boy narrative in itself worth revision — but it’s a wicked idea. She also once recommended I try faking it till I make it as regards mental wellbeing, so there you go.

But Roadburn became a home to me for those years. By 2017, 2018, I would get off the plane at Schiphol, walk right down to where the car pickup was, get my ride and roll out to the fest, like clockwork. In 2018, I ended up on a bus with at least 80 percent of the San Diego heavy psych scene that was playing. Earthless weren’t there, but many acolytes and others for sure were. Stoner brodown, that was. But that I remember. And getting out of the van at the 013, walking over to the hotel, feeling the fresh air on my face and knowing that I was where I belonged — I guess maybe what I’m nervous about is not feeling that. What if I go to Roadburn and it doesn’t feel like home?

And while I deep dive into feeling silly for tearing up as I sit at the gate for my flight — that’s B24, a 5:35PM departure; heads up, there might not be wifi on the flight because of a technical difficulty, which is always what you want to be reading about concerning the plane you’re boarding — thinking about feeling rudderless over the next five days, I’ll offer myself the small consolation of the different Roadburn experience I’ve planned out for myself.

To explain: You may or may not know this, but I’ve done a decent amount of writing and editing for the festival. Not band blurbs or such; I’m nowhere near knowledgeable or cool enough for that. But social media posts, copy editing, that kind of thing. I have a casual voice in writing — just might say fuck in a given sentence, though I try to temper it in RB stuff because they’re classy like that — so it makes sense and I’m happy to contribute anywhere and anytime I am asked.

In one of the texts I was editing for Roadburn 2024 — I don’t know which one it was — it was talking about “don’t have a plan.” Go to Roadburn and just roll through. Honey, you should’ve seen me clutching my pearls. No plan? Are you mad??? I’m supposed to go to Roadburn and, what, improv it through the day? Sounds like a good way to miss some once-in-a-lifetime shit, no? Well, Roadburn-proper is four days after the pre-show tomorrow night — it’s called ‘Ignition’ now — and for at least the last 15 years, it’s been a choose-your-adventure kind of fest. Between a packed schedule, limited human energy resources, and the basic needs to tend to same as regards sleep, sustenance, etc., you have to pinpoint where you want to be and when you want to be there.

Want to get up front in the Green Room? Last I checked that meant you wanted to get there before the act on stage before the band you want to see finishes, then move up when whatever portion of their crowd clears out. Taking photos meant camping out a lot for me in years past.

This year, my mission is less. Not less fest, but less internalized worry. I’ll get where I’m getting, I’ll get the shots I’m gonna get, but if that’s behind some seven-foot Dutch dude and his seven-foot special lady, fuck it. For years I’d break my ass trying to put myself in a spot to take a picture without someone’s head at the bottom of it. Maybe this year I’ll back up and get the crowd in the shot too. You see what I mean? I’m trying to make my life easier.

And as regards no plan? Well that’s really, really scary, isn’t it? I don’t think I can do it, but that very feeling of not being able to let go of some sense of control over the situation — because make no mistake, that’s what it’s about — has inspired me just the same to ease up a bit. Maybe I’ll watch more bands than I used to, maybe fewer. But maybe I’ll let myself enjoy it more. Just stand for a few minutes in the volume of a thing. I want to try that. Feels bigger in my head than it looks in writing, but that’s what I’ve got.

Here are the day schedules for Roadburn 2024:

Thursday, April 18

Roadburn 2024 Thursday schedule

Friday, April 19

Roadburn 2024 Friday schedule

Saturday, April 20

Roadburn 2024 Saturday schedule

Sunday, April 21

Roadburn 2024 Sunday schedule

Couple early starts, between Hexvessel doing Polar Veil on Thursday and Darsombra on Friday, but screw it. I have a few landmarks I know I want to see — clipping. and Khante, Dool, The Keening, Tusmørke, at least part of Heath and both The Bevis Frond and The Jesus and Mary Chain among them — but that’s still nowhere near the down-to-every-fifth-minute planning I’ve done for Roadburns past, so I do feel like there’s some letting go happening. I don’t know that I could ever do an easy-breezy no-plan RB, but I don’t think that’s an invalid approach just because I’m too uptight to live by it for a weekend.

If you keep up over the next couple days, thank you. If you read any of this, either right now or ever, thanks for that too. Once I actually get on the plane — it’s here now, wasn’t when I started this — and do that eight hours of time, get to Tilburg and maybe dare to sleep for a couple hours, I’m going to try to have a good time, to not leave the festival even more exhausted than I was when I got there. This is my break, after all. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking of The Obelisk as work and remember that the reason I spend so much of my time doing this in the first place is that I fucking love it. God damn I hope I can make that true by the time Monday comes around and I fly back home.

That’s where I’m at. Thanks again for reading.

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Tim Otis of High Noon Kahuna

Posted in Questionnaire on April 12th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Tim Otis of High Noon Kahuna

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions inteded to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Tim Otis of High Noon Kahuna

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

Make sounds with the intention of accentuating, enhancing, or supporting other sounds around me. It all happened very organically. In high school I played guitar… a lot. Then I became very interested in drumming and started jamming on drums about 5 years later. It was a very organic transition from drumming by myself, to free-form jamming (mostly with Matt LeGrow and our brothers), then those free-form jams evolved into Admiral Browning.

About nine years ago I got back into guitar big time. Revisiting old riffs I had, learning new stuff. Exploring tones, pedals, amps, different pickups and stuff like that. Started jamming on guitar with a neighbor who drummed, shortly Paul joined us on Wednesday nights to jam. It was also very organic, we never “constructed” a song as much as we honed free-form jams into songs.

Describe your first musical memory.

My zeroth musical memory is piano lessons as a young kid, I remember not liking my piano teacher at all. Hahah! Beyond that, mom and dad played guitar, bass, banjo, piano and sang at church, so I had early access to instruments, PA systems and microphones. I have several memories of playing with this stuff, learning about it, and singing in musicals as a young person in church. However my favorite thing to do in those days was to hear Rick Dees weekly top forty. I would rush to the radio on Sunday nights when it
aired. It was the highlight of my week as a young kid. Not only tracking where my favorite artists were on the charts (Duran Duran) but I was equally fascinated by some of the side stories Rick would share when introducing a song or band.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

This is a recent one! Our latest High Noon Kahuna recording with Kevin Bernstein at Developing Nations! We went in with about 80% of the songs fully-baked, done, and dusted. We had sketches and rough drafts of the other 20 percent with enough time booked to fully explore and experiment in the studio. It was liberating and wonderful! Out of this freedom we created what I think is one of the coolest tracks on the new album, “Tumbleweed Nightmare.”

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Drumming showed me my limits were mental. When I was at my physical limit, the riffs and music drove me to push past those limits. I can run or workout with weights or kickbox or kayak or ride uphill on a bike, but nothing on earth pushes me to my limit and enables me to break past my limits like drumming and more importantly, being a collaborator in the musical sounds of the band.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Betterment! With any form of art, it starts small, and sometimes it starts bad. As we learn and grow while practicing, our art becomes better. Every time we practice our art is a chance to improve.

How do you define success?

Success, to me, is being happy with yourself, your surroundings, the people in your life, and your work. Society always dangles the carrot in front of us, there will always be something we don’t have. Being motivated and driven enough to keep working hard every single day and on days when the motivation isn’t there, having resiliency to push through the items that need doing, that’s how I’m able to feel successful at the end of the day.

As far as a band setting goes, there are thousands of micro-to-macro successes. Celebrating each one of those can manifest more. Things like, inventing a new part for a song, having a good practice jam, playing a fun show, a successful recording session. Each of these are rewarding and should be seen as successes.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

The bathroom at the Springwater Supper Club & Lounge in Nashville Tennessee. Love that place, many of my good friends have worked there and booked shows there. Have played several amazing shows there and attended some awesome parties and shows there. But, wow that bathroom was bad! All the things you’d expect from a punk-rock bathroom. Few rival it, however the bathroom at the Meatlocker in Montclair New Jersey and the bathroom at the Milestone in Charlotte North Carolina were contenders.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I think everyone who is a true music fan/nerd has developing tastes. I’m thankful that I’ve never reached the end of my musical journey as a fan of music. I’m also thankful for my friends over the years who have showed me new music. As my tastes and preferences evolve I’m thankful that new ideas emerge regularly that challenge my own musical abilities and push me beyond my limits.

As far as non-musical creations, I’ve been getting back into drawing, lettering and calligraphy. There are a few ideas here that I’m working on creating.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

Expression. Art allows us to convey our attitudes and emotions on different levels. Art can be beautiful, art can be brutal, art can be beautifully brutal or brutally beautiful. I’m thankful for the ability to express these emotions in ways that resonate in ways beyond just talking about them.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

I’ve been watching every werewolf movie I can find since last Halloween, there are roughly 70 on my list. I look forward to seeing them all. (Suggestions and recommendations welcome!) Some upcoming tattoo work I’m getting. Spending some fun summer time with my wife, hounds, and mother nature.

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High Noon Kahuna, This Place is Haunted (2024)

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Video Interview: Brume on Marten, Dolly Parton, All the Lost Rap Parts of Their Songs & More

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Features on April 8th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

brume (Photo by Jamie MacCathie)

San Francisco’s Brume will release their new album, Marten, through Magnetic Eye Records on May 3. That’s less than a month away. The interview in the video below was conducted back in February, and the reason for that was basically that I heard the thing, got excited about it, and wanted to chat. I had asked bassist/vocalist Susie McMullan (also keys) for a lyric sheet, which she was gracious enough to supply, and reading through, I could see the genuine poetic voice behind a lot of the words; somewhat playful, sometimes sad and/or angry, but pervasively grounded in the actual language being used. Mother Earth, in condemning humanity’s destruction of the planet, calls it rude (that’s “How Rude,” for which they have a new video, also below). McMullan‘s threat “Do you mind if I step in?” is pointedly low-key in redirecting the conversation of “Run Your Mouth.” Just two among many other examples throughout the record.

Part of what makes it striking is that with so much nuance in the careful balance of the vocal arrangements between McMullan, guitarist Jamie McCathie, and cellist Jackie Perez Gratz (also Grayceon, ex-Giant Squid, etc.), the chamber-style presence of the strings amid instrumental dynamics crossing the span from minimalism to outright crush — Jordan Perkins-Lewis‘ drums steady at the foundation for either — you’d almost expect more pretense, more grandiosity. Instead, Marten — named brume martenfor the kind of varmint on its cover, and maybe also a little bit some dude they met on tour in Europe — is casual from the outset. What could be less formal than the name “Jimmy?” However sweeping or consuming “New Sadder You” or “Faux Savior” get, and no matter who is actually delivering the lines in a given verse, that underlying point of view holds firm.

It is a record loaded with stories. There was a lot to talk about, and there probably still is. As regards the interview itself, I’ll tell you that I had had a day by the time McGathieMcMullan and I hopped on Zoom. I should’ve canceled. It’s not a question of performance or anything like that, but about 20 minutes before we started talking I was getting punched by my kid for I don’t even remember what, and I just kind of suck here. I had a hard time going back and watching it, to tell you the truth. I’d transcribe it (ha) if I ever had time, maybe edit the video, but that also feels a little less honest to the experience, and, well, everybody on the internet pretends they’re fucking perfect all the time and in the interest of down-to-earth, here’s me taking myself down a peg. I haven’t done a lot of video interviews in the last year-plus. I really wanted to talk to Brume. If I had it to do over, I would, but sometimes one part of life bleeds into another, and while I’m sure it’s worse to me than to someone else watching, I just kind of get sad looking at and hearing myself here.

So enjoy! Yeah, I know. I haven’t sold it well. Fair enough.

What I’ll tell you is that whether you actually dig into the interview clip or not — and Susie and Jamie had cool stuff to say, so don’t not watch it — listen to the music. “Jimmy,” “New Sadder You” and, as of yesterday, “How Rude” are available as singles. They don’t represent the gospel blues of “Faux Savior” or the emotive fluidity that closes Marten in “The Yearn,” but god damn, do they land heavy on any level you want to consider.

So one way or the other, yeah, do enjoy. Thanks for reading and watching if you do:

Brume, Marten Interview, Feb. 22, 2024

Marten is out May 3 on Magnetic Eye Records. Preorders available here: http://lnk.spkr.media/brume-marten.

Brume, Marten (2024)

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Joey Toscano of Iota

Posted in Questionnaire on April 1st, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Joey Toscano of Iota

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Joey Toscano of Iota

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

In order of priority, I live a life and then I write songs about it. Art comes out of living, so I don’t put music above everything else, or try to live by some fixed identity like, “I’m a musician”. I observe my own living and mindstream within this absurd world — experiencing the suffering and the joy just like everyone else — doing my best to fully experience, equally, the mundane and the extraordinary, though I don’t claim to be exceptionally good at that part. And then out of that, at the very bottom of the funnel, there just happens to be a preference for communicating and sharing it via music/sound. It’s all play and pretend.

I’ve come to it in different ways between 10yo, 20yo, and so on. Very recently, I’ve come to do what I’m doing now because a friend asked me to play the leads on a record he wrote. I wasn’t very active at that point, but found motivation in wanting to help a friend realize his musical vision. That in turn lead me to being inspired to finish an album that’d been sitting on the shelf for a few years. Then that lead to inspiration for writing another album. Interconnectivity and an infinite web of new starting
points.

Describe your first musical memory.

Probably about 5 years old, I’d pretend our vacuum cleaner was a microphone—singing along to mom’s Journey and Michael Jackson records. I’d also spend hours just flipping through the records, soaking in the cover art. Lots of CCR, Beatles, Elton John, Neil Young. That’s what I remember being in her collection.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

I’ll go with the first record I ever connected with on a level that had me obsessed with listening to it all day, every day. That moment when you’re a kid and you get your first Walkman. Just completely absorbed in the music and your own emotional world. Pissing off your parents because you can’t hear anything they’re saying. That seems to be where everything has sprung from.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Great question. I’d say it’s usually when I put my head on the pillow at night. Not every night, but that’s the typical scenario. It’s when the realization hits hardest that something I was clinging to or arguing about so intensely doesn’t really matter at all. All the plans I was making, all the mundane things I thought I wanted to align myself with. All of it just vapor. I used to firmly believe that life is just a straight line, but over the last 10 years or so, I’ve experienced some things that have shaken that belief and I realize now that it’s something much different than that. I have faith that most of our beliefs are bullshit.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Well, if done with the right intention, I think perhaps enlightenment? Or at least towards a clearer, more positive understanding of one’s perceived self and their place in the world. An understanding of how your chosen craft can be of benefit to others is critical. I like that Japanese term, Shokunin. Such a great concept for artist progression. Whether you’re a mechanic, electrician, chef, writer, accountant or musician. You have a responsibility to master your craft. And in turn, you benefit someone else with that mastery. I could be misinterpreting it, but that’s how I understand it. If you put the mastery of your craft into that perspective, then the ego will eventually dissipate.

How do you define success?

A relative state of being where one has stabilized in genuine peace of mind and happiness, regardless of their situation.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Seeing my dog get run over.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I fantasize about doing movie soundtracks, though everyone I know who’s done it tells me it’s usually an excruciating process.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

Essential function is to teach us about ourselves. That doesn’t make the artist the teacher, though. How we perceive art says more about us than it does the creator. If something disgusts us, we should ask ourselves why. Same goes for when something elates us. This is why the same piece of art can have so many different meanings.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

It will sound really boring but I look forward to doing absolutely nothing and being completely content about it

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Iota, Pentasomnia (2024)

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Full Album Stream & Track-by-Track: Esben Willems, Glowing Darkness

Posted in audiObelisk, Features on March 28th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

esben willems glowing darkness

This Friday, Esben Willems will make his solo debut with the full-length Glowing Darkness on Majestic Mountain Records, and I won’t mince words in telling you that for some of the built-in audience who know him only from his output as the drummer of Swedish riff magnates Monolord, it’s going to seem like a pretty stark departure. The path of influence that’s brought Willems to this nine-song, 33-minute long-player is more complex than a simple ‘band wasn’t on tour so I made a record by myself’ narrative one might try to impose on it, and from the insistent weirdo-pop urgency of “Cabaret Street” — as if to jolt one awake at the outset — through the guitar-led bounce of the title-track and the finale “Across the Everything,” which presents a sound that is full and atmospheric while still not tying itself to this or that microgenre, the personality of the procession becomes like a series of experiments brought to fruition in order to actively work against the generic in and around heavy music.

Recording himself on all instruments at Studio Berserk in Gothenburg, where there’s at least a 30 percent chance he also mastered your album, Willems runs through a succession of cuts that seems to owe its core ethic of creative freedom to Talking Heads no less than Masters of Reality, with “Dear Demon” and “Carte Blanche” building on the catchy structure of “Cabaret Street” in a way that allows Glowing Darkness to remain cohesive as it chasing down different ideas. Would it be a shock if I told you it’s well produced?

Those who’ve perhaps followed Willems through his various collaborations in recent years — lest we forget the “here’s some beats have fun” drum patterns he posted during the covid pandemic that led to his ‘guesting’ on releases from all over the world — or who even took on the earlier-this-year self-titled debut from doom-does-Slayer covers project Slower (review here), might be better set up to follow where Glowing Darkness is headed, but one way or the other, the reward is there for the open-minded, and the palpable defiance of expectation brims with purpose. As the standalone layered vocals and last guitar noodle of “Carte Blanche” give over to the more sauntering groove of “Embrace the Fall,” daring a bit of funk in the nuanced pattern of the verse before opening to the rolling chorus, Willems feels strikingly clearheaded in his arrangements and the balance of the mix.

And while mostly traditionalist in verse/chorus structures, the material is all the more able to explore and expand stylistically for that sure footing, but it’s also concise enough that only “Cabaret Street” and “Across the Everything” push beyond a four-minute runtime, the latter serving as the longest inclusion at 5:01. It may be that Willems sat down and plotted out measure by measure, layer by layer, waveform by waveform, the various reaches into which Glowing Darkness delves — I honestly don’t know and I don’t have the track-by-track yet, so maybe we’ll find out together — but whatever the initial spark might have been for the minimalist-Nirvana-meets-cavernous-nod centerpiece “Slow Rain,” the feeling of spontaneity, and of a creative chase, of an artist figuring out in real-time who they are and how they want to bring the songs in their head to life, remains amid the tight and Esben Willemshammered-out spirit of the finished LP.

Tucked away cozily in the procession of side B, “Space Bob” leans percussive intricacy on a fuzzy riff that’s simpler but sturdy enough to support all the activity and finds Willems repeating the lines, “I had to save myself/This head/Caught fire,” as the guitar grows more fervent before receding. It’s three minutes long and doesn’t come anywhere near summarizing Glowing Darkness as a whole — it’s not trying to — but it does capture a specific portrait of creative urgency. Have you ever felt like your head’s on fire? Like there’s something you need to get out, to express, to say or do or share and you’re consumed by that thing until you actually make it happen? I do, often. In that way, “Space Bob” feels like it’s about its own making, the way it’s built up to what Willems wanted it to be or until he was satisfied enough with what it became to say it’s done. Isn’t that what being an artist is like? Your head’s just on fire all the time? Maybe Willems intended the metaphor and maybe not, but the notion of artistic expression being what ‘saves’ you from the fire resonates. Sometimes it’s like that.

What Willems in the track-by-track/interview that follows refers to as “limitations” become quirks in craft and style. The way the vocals are layered and patterned. The stops in the guitar of “Fortune Teller” that bounce while feeling intimate and personal like some lost McCartney-era experiment, or the way “Across the Everything” lets itself submerge in the wash of tone and space before Glowing Darkness ends with drums and voice alone, heavy in tone and presence but still very much its own take. One could hardly ask a more fitting resolution, not the least because it also doesn’t attempt to summarize so much as to keep adding to the breadth of the whole album while staying grounded in structure. That duality becomes crucial throughout.

I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Willems a few times over the last several years, and probably could’ve fired up Zoom to make an ass out of myself for a video chat. But since the album’s streaming in full, you’re not likely to watch a video at the same time you’re listening to the record, and I think there’s something appealing about reading an artist’s view of their work while you listen to the work itself; a multi-sensory immersion. One way or the other, I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Glowing Darkness can be heard in its entirety on the player below, followed by the track-by-track:

Glowing Darkness track-by-track with Esben Willems

When did Glowing Darkness start to come together? How far back do these songs go, and at what point did you know you wanted to make an album under your own name as opposed to starting another band?

It’s been lingering for a long time, I wanted to get back to writing and recording music on the side again. I love side-projects and how they fuel the creativity in unexpected ways, I’ve always had the need to create in multiple different directions. The journey we’ve made with Monolord the past decade has been overwhelmingly amazing; the effect of that has also been that between tours, behind the scenes admin work and most important of all family, I haven’t had the time to explore much else. In 2019, we decided to take one season off from touring with the band – simply to recharge – and shortly after that the pandemic hit, so all that combined was the perfect opportunity to play around with these song ideas, some of them probably about 15 years old, I don’t really remember. Misfit, maladjusted little nuggets that didn’t really fit in any other project along the way, but all of them ideas I returned to when rummaging through the digital archives, as one does every now and then.

I figured that if these songs made me smile, there should be at least a handful of people on this planet that are wired the same way I am and would feel the same, so I started reworking them and rewriting most of the lyrics to what felt relevant in my life now. Also, I’ve often preached to people around me that they should embrace their limitations and create regardless of them, instead turning those limitations into creative tools, but I have been really bad at adapting that mindset myself, so I felt that this would be a great way to give myself a Henry Rollins asskicking to get going. So, that’s the reason this is not a new band and it’s also the reason that I’m playing all the instruments and singing all the vocals, warts and all, just to see what I could accomplish with the quite substantial limitations I have outside of the drumkit. And inside of it, for that matter. Incredibly scary, which also fueled the inspiration even further.

What do you most want people who only know you from Monolord to know about these songs? Imagine someone is about to put it on for the first time. What should their mindset be?

That it’s not Monolord, at all. I don’t want to deceive anyone into expecting that this will be a rumble fest in a slightly different direction. I love that and those projects of mine will also be recorded and released, but this one is a ticket to somewhere else. Speaking of describing music, I love how we all perceive music so differently. We can love the same thing, but most likely from entirely different perspectives and we can hate something the same way. I’ve seen this described as some sort of post-punk several times now and that is not even remotely close to what I hear myself. Which is really cool, it’s all been mentioned as a compliment and I’ll take it, regardless of whatever genre this might be considered as.

Let’s go through the tracks. “Cabaret Street”:

I was frustrated about how so much of my surroundings and even my own behaviour revolved around the insatiable search for validation. It might sound like a “social media is bad and I’m afraid of wifi” statement, but I feel that blaming social media only is a bit one-dimensional and lazy, to me this virus culture is equally fueled by how our society is constructed. Social media is just a tumorous result of that, I think. Social media is also an amazing tool, if used right.

If this song is anti- anything, it would be anti-capitalism.

“Dear Demon”

I guess many of us have that head demon that never sleeps, that beast who’s never out of energy to remind you that you’re not good enough, that your desperate attempts to matter are nothing more than embarrassingly transparent and laughable theatrics. This is my love letter to my own demon, just to confuse it. I know it won’t confuse it for long, it will be back with full force tomorrow. But so will I and my coffee is both stronger and real.

“Carte Blanche”

It seems to be a permanent human flaw that we in the bigger picture never – or very rarely – really learn from our mistakes. When a relationship, a job, any human interaction goes wrong we tend to just end it without reflection, replace it with something similar and repeat the process elsewhere with someone else, naively hoping that this utopia will be different. We start things the same way and we end things the same way, rinse and repeat. Denial is an addictive spice.

“Embrace the Fall”

Speaking of denial, the collective version of that in the shape of the silently socially accepted self medication is peak tragicomedy to me. Or rather, the tragicomedy lies in it’s collective denial, not the actual numbing by beers, by I’m-not-addicted-I-can-quit-anytime-there-are-no-side-effects-420brah weed or whatever your preferred sedative might be. Not saying that I don’t embrace the buzz of my gentrified hazy IPA – I really do – I just find some kind of dark humor in that I also participate in that game of pretending.

“Slow Rain”

A deliberately slow one about the process of breaking on the inside, over and over, but still keep functioning on the outside, no matter what. The constant battle between strength and fragility.

“Glowing Darkness”

Even though life can feel bleak and uphill, there are always bright spots in the darkness. They might be small and seemingly insignificant, but they sometimes shines a brighter light than you’d maybe expect.

“Space Bob”

I think and hope this one is self-explanatory. If not, it might be because you didn’t save yourself when your head caught fire. You have to.

“Fortune Teller”

This is to my life companion, what we have is incredible to me. Through all the bumps and twists and turns, we have the best of rides. I love her.

“Across the Everything”

I love playing live and being able to travel the world to do so. But it comes at the expense of deeply missing my loved ones, especially my kid as a parent. Not being there in the flesh is heartbreaking and something I always struggle with when I tour. This is to my son, my promise that I will always come home.

Now that Glowing Darkness is coming out – and releasing it has been in the works for a while, right? – how are you feeling about the release? Are you relieved to have it out in the world (almost), inspired to move forward as a songwriter, tired of the whole idea? What comes next?

It’s indeed been in the works for quite a while, yes, so it feels really good to finally have it out. Also, as with every new release, nervous. I hope that people that are into this kind of music will enjoy it.

I’m always inspired to move forward, to make new music. More projects are already in the works, both solo type stuff and projects with others. Regarding writing music, I’m finally getting back to it, having been away from it for almost a decade. I’m rusty, but I’m having tons of fun in the process.

Anything else you want to say about the record, or anything else generally?

Listen to music, a lot of music, as far and wide in genres and cultures as you can. Don’t limit yourself with predefined taste. Puritanism is boring. Curiosity is not.

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Colour Haze Celebrate 30 Years with In Her Garden Remix and More

Posted in Features on March 26th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The studio adventures of German heavy psychedelia progenitors Colour Haze are manifold and occasionally more than their share of tragic, but as the band celebrate their 30th anniversary throughout 2024, they’re an essential part of the story. Guitarist and vocalist Stefan Koglek, who is the remaining founding member, has been a part of studio builds and teardowns, recorded in basements and bunkers, and been driven enough toward the band determining their own destiny to end up creating the space itself in which he’d long wished to create. You might recall that around the time of 2012’s She Said (review here), Koglek talked about some of the years’ worth of challenges behind that record alone. As it turns out, that circumstance — while particularly gruesome — was not necessarily an isolated incident.

In addition to a CD sale through his mostly-dormant imprint Elektrohasch Schallplatten and sundry live dates — including SonicBlast Fest in Portugal and Bear Stone in Croatia — that will culminate in an anniversary festival of their own at Feierwerk in Munich this Dec. 28 (further details TBA), Koglek has begun overseeing revisits to past Colour Haze albums at a home studio that, at least for now, he’s willing to call ‘done.’ One might think of the 2021 remix of 2003’s Los Sounds de Krauts (reissue review here) as a precursor to this undertaking, but in terms of the place where the work happens, the already-streaming upcoming 2LP remix and remaster of 2017’s In Her Garden (review here) presents an evolved ideology in its approach to volume, and takes ownership of the material in a way that lets it realize new ideas without actually being all that different.

I’ll just say flat out that if you cherish the original as I do — I hope always to remember dancing with my then-baby daughter to the la-la-las later in “Lotus” — there’s nothing on the 2024 In Her Garden that wants to take that away from you. If the notion of an artist going back over prior output makes you nervous, I understand that. I’m pretty sure there are still folks pissed off Star Wars did a second trilogy at the turn of the century, and I’m not out here to try and belittle or discount anyone’s point of view. Particularly for records toward which one might feel a deep connection, that change can be scary. With the original In Her Garden, Colour Haze united the expanse of the aforementioned She Said with the intentional pushback, go-to-ground organic performance-capture of 2015’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), found peace and a place in-between those sides that was memorable unto itself in the listening experience, and cast sun-coated evocations which have continued to resonate in the now-seven years since it came out. Their two-to-date LPs since, 2019/2020’s We Are (review here) and 2022’s Sacred (review here), would not have taken shape as they did without In Her Garden‘s progressive foundation.

Below, you’ll find Koglek detailing the process of going back into the recordings of In Her Garden with a perspective less about volume and more about dynamic. Some pieces have been (partially) rearranged, as with the vocals on “Black Lilly” after the intro “Into Her Garden,” or Jan Faszbender‘s solo in “Lavatera,” but the overarching impression of the music remains serene in its varied movements, and the songs come across with more space, more live energy, and as you can hear in the 11-minute “Islands” and across the span, an underlying tonal crunch that proves well worth highlighting. He calls its sound as “brighter” and “more ‘open,'” and these are assessments with which I can only agree as he, then-bassist Philipp Rasthofer, drummer Manfred Merwald, as well as Faszbender and a host of guest contributors including Mario Oberpucher — who’d take over for Rasthofer on bass in 2021 — present this fresh and refreshing take on the original.

This isn’t an interview, and it’s not an in-studio, but Koglek goes deep in terms of laying out the ideas behind 2024’s In Her Garden and what actually went into making a record that was already so teeming with vitality feel even more alive. Keep your eyes on their website, as they’ll reportedly roll out more background on other albums as the occasion arises. I did some light editing on the text below, but in parallel to the record’s new mix itself, no actual meaning has been changed.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy:

colour haze in her garden

Revisiting ‘In Her Garden’ with Stefan Koglek

…In the summer of 2015, my new control room was ready to work. Now I had a luxurious home studio. While I couldn’t foresee the dynamics starting from the choice of a 2” tape machine as a basic recorder, I have to admit I got intrigued by the reemergence of analogue audio gear. A fascinating world I dived into with passion. Would you stick with drawing watercolor on paper just for economic reasons if it’s your dream to make big oil paintings on canvas?

I think the experiences of your life are more precious than any money you could probably save. I wanted to have gear that I really liked, not just what was doing the job. Even if it was just for the reason that you couldn’t blame the gear for making a poor-sounding record.

I was reasonable enough not to buy overpriced classics, instead choosing esoteric stuff with good value for the money. And with an analogue studio you need a lot of stuff.

Also in my new home studio, I was still missing some tools, equalizer channels, etc., to really do everything necessary or that I wanted. It was still not grown up. And though the room was good now, the monitoring still was far from perfect. Though I wasn’t too happy with the performance of my monitor speakers in the room, my attempts to change this didn’t get much going. But it was much better than before, so I tried to get used to it. I couldn’t improve the situation for another five years.

In 2016, we had enough music for a new album but the garage below my control room still wasn’t converted into the recording space it was initially intended to be.

For the ‘In Her Garden’ recordings, we booked a great sounding, huge 1960s studio room in Munich, which was now mainly used as a rehearsal for a symphonic orchestra. We would have brought all our own recording gear. One week before our sessions, the booking was cancelled by the studio owner.

Though I thought it was clear from the beginning we would rent the empty room during the orchestra’s holiday in a lockout deal, he was shocked to find out we wouldn’t just work from nine to five like the orchestra musicians. First he wanted to double the already whopping 800 Euro per-day price for an empty room, then he cancelled the whole deal.

There we stood, holiday already taken. We tried to find a different studio but in the end had to go down again in our rehearsal room. A new place that was formerly a beer cellar for Oktoberfest. It was four floors below ground, 40 sqm, concrete, low ceiling. The lift had just enough room to squeeze in the Telefunken.

We tried to swiftly treat the room acoustically with what was around, and just as everything was set up and ready for soundcheck, the tape machine stopped working. It turned out that a huge surge hit the poor electric system of the building while we were setting up mics (maybe from a crane being shut off from the build of the nearby Oktoberfest).

The Logic-platines of the tape machine were destroyed – and so was the lift. The latter never got repaired again, and in the end we had to carry the 250 kg Telefunken in pieces up four floors on small stairs. We spent the week that was meant for recording on fixing the recorder. But we got ‘In Her Garden’ in the end, despite the difficult circumstance. And the recordings sounded better than what we got from the previous place.

The Remixes:

In 2020, I had to change to a different press for LPs. For some years, the company I was working with since founding Elektrohasch had trouble with quality and when they raised prices three times within two weeks in the 2020 vinyl rush, it was time to go.

The pressing-tools were mine, since I always had my vinyls cut at a different cutting studio. I expected they could simply be sent to the new factory and I could work there. But surprise: most tools arrived damaged at Optimal Media. A part of the stock of work we’d built up over 20 years was gone overnight. I had to deliver new cuts. That meant I had to deliver the master recordings again.

Sometimes this was impossible.

For ‘Los Sounds de Krauts,’ the original digital masters were in poor 16bit 44.1 kHz on CD-R – you wouldn’t use a 15-year-old CD-R as a master! I also thought the mixes could be improved with hindsight and better gear. At least for that I had the original (digital) multitrack recordings, but it took two years to get all the digital files running again. Mind that – just 15 years and your digital memory might be lost already or only retrieved with great effort or cost, even within the very same system: ProTools on a Mac. Meanwhile, I just put the tapes from ‘To The Highest Gods We Know’ on the machine and simply work with them.

Other records are still in stock, some won’t be reprinted anyway.

But when possible I will take the opportunity to remix the rest of our catalogue step by step. Because the sound could be better. It is a lot of work (and actually not paid) but it’s simply a thing I want to do.

With the home studio, I have the possibility and occasion to work on them again. And there are reasons why I think I can get to better results now:

– Over the years, I’ve learned more about mixing. I have a better idea what I’m hearing and how to achieve things.

– My studio finally has proper monitoring. For the first time since ‘All,’ I can really hear what is going on.

– The studio is complete. I do not miss another Equalizer-Channel if I need one. I’m happy with it, got used to what I have and don’t want different or new stuff. I have a tendency to collect things, but thankfully this always ends at some point. I can complete a collection.

– I have no pressure. I can work relaxed at home on the recordings whenever I’m up to it.

– Foremost, it is now finally fun to work in that place.

‘In Her Garden’ is the first record I mixed and mastered with this new situation. The actual changes in the mixing are not that big – it is still the same recordings and the same person working with the same setup on them. But little changes make quite some difference for my ears:

– First of all I learned to take much more care with levels. In the individual tracks, differences in gain settings are subtle to hear, but the dedicated control over all levels throughout the signal chain leads to a less “choked,” more open-sounding result. Though my console has headroom forever I had to learn how different it sounds depending on how you drive it.

– Where for quite some time I kept the ideal of mixing very “dry” without any additional reverberation on the basic tracks, I’m a bit less dogmatic about such things now and I learned to utilize reverberation better.

– I learned how to take greater care of mixing keyboards and vocals…

– Another benefit for the remix was I didn’t feel the pressure to present a new album and also had more distance to the music and therefore maybe a clearer view – remixing ‘In Her Garden’ was pretty relaxed and happened over the course of seven months.

For my ears all this results in a more “open,” pleasant and relaxed sound. The record is more dynamic and sounds brighter and fuller, even though the equalizer settings actually haven’t changed much. It’s just a bit more on-spot here and there, so the individual signals integrate better.

What was changed on the material? Not much, just in:

– “Black Lilly”: I was never satisfied with how the vocals worked. I had this melody, an idea of the vocal line, but had trouble performing it. That’s part of why we don’t play this song live; I simply can’t sing it well enough in the original key. But the basic track was the best I could achieve. I mixed it much better now so it is not rolling up my toenails anymore. And I added a new lower background voice to help the basic track. I actually like the vocals in this song pretty much now.

– “Lavatera“ – for ‘In Her Garden,’ I had originally hired Jan as a session musician, which led to expanding Colour Haze to a quartet later. The original organ tracks were a swift improvisation. As “Lavatera” was part of the live set for a couple of years, Jan developed a synthesizer solo that fit the song better. I wanted to integrate this solo also, to create a bridge within the record to Jan being a member of the band now.

Another difference is the mastering.

I’m first generation home-computer, and with all the changes since the ‘80s, I’ve experienced digital memory as shortlived and ever-changing. If you’re reading this and you record anything, ever, mind the trouble we had recreating the ‘Los Sounds de Krauts’ data. From an artistic point of view, a physical copy is still the form that should present the results of our efforts.

We got accustomed to so many things, and until ‘In Her Garden’, I had the idea that the digital master was better with a certain amount of loudness. This by far was not as gruesome as during the early 2000s, but as close as possible to the technical limits of digital audio.

Well, one could imagine it simply is not good to drive anything as far as possible to the technical limits. And though mastering engineers might tell you otherwise, my notion is that limiters (tools that cut off signal peaks so the program can be shifted closer to the limit) never do nice things to audio. They limit.

For [remixing] ‘In Her Garden,’ I forgot all considerations of making it loud. It doesn’t matter for the actual result on vinyl anyway. For or me it sounds less “choked” than everything we did before. Only time will tell if this is a better way.

The recording and mix are analogue. I mixdown to 1/4” stereo tape. From there, mastering is basically the translation to digital, but the tools for it are still analogue – a Hi-End valve equalizer to shape the frequency and a Hi-End valve compressor for some dynamic shaping, to “open up” the dynamics rather than to “squeeze” them together. From there it is converted to digital.

This time I didn’t try anymore to get as loud as possible into the digital domain. I accepted the sonically ideal point of the electronics of my mastering converter (if you need to know, I use a Forssell Mada 2a). And the result after mastering 13 songs every now and then over the course of six weeks with all the songs fitting together in loudness and appearance tells me I’m not totally wrong.

For the vinyl cut I changed from DMM to “half-speed lacquer cut”. The digital files are only half as loud now, but I think it sounds better. You have the volume control – use it! :)

Colour Haze, In Her Garden (2024 remix/remaster)

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