First of all: congratulations with this EP. It is one of the best things I have heard in a long time. It has been a while since we have heard anything from you, and the band has become a little smaller, counting the number of band members. I was wondering, is Twilight's Embrace more of a hobby than a job? And what have you guys been up to since 'By Darkness Undone'?
Thank you for the kind words on our EP - it's great to hear that people are enjoying it. Regarding the hobby versus job question - sadly there is no way to run a band like this as a job. Record sales are far too low and streaming services pay almost nothing at all. Some bands can get by with the income from live shows but for this sort of music gig opportunities are very rare and most of them pay the band nothing. When you see that classic bands of the genre like My Dying Bride kept their day jobs, and also that trying to turn Agalloch into a full-time job basically ended up splitting the band, it becomes obvious that people like us have to be realistic about what we can achieve playing this type of music. As such, some of the band have had to leave to pursue other interests or their careers - but we're all on good terms, so you may see one or two faces returning in the future...
Since we released our album 'By Darkness Undone' there was a lot of songwriting activity for Twilight's Embrace, but not many gig opportunities. That meant more time for other projects - I kept busy with my black metal act Arx Atrata, Jack has a progressive metal band called Fjords, and Andy plays in Beyond Grace, who are probably most closely described as technical death metal.
When I put 'Penance' on for the first time I thought I was hearing a lot of My Dying Bride influences, but when I listened to it a couple of times more I started hearing very different things, and quite a unique sound. How much of an influence are other bands on your music (now and when you started) and how do you manage to create a sound that is not like any other band's sound?
My Dying Bride have always been a big influence on my writing, though strangely enough not so much so on the Penance EP. All musicians are heavily influenced by others, whether they admit to it or not, and Twilight's Embrace is no exception. I often like to think about blending the styles of two different bands, maybe taking the rhythm approach from one band and writing a melody in the style of another, or taking an interesting drum pattern and writing entirely new chords over the top. As a new band we're totally relaxed about people spotting our influences. Iron Maiden's first album was often compared to Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, Wishbone Ash, etc., and it was only later that people began to spot the aspects that were unique to Maiden. Every band has to go through that phase.
Music has a lot of influence on people's feelings and mood, and in my personal opinion this is even more so with metal music, especially doom. Is that something you actively think about while writing the music? Is there a certain atmosphere that you try to create, and, without getting too technical, how do you go about doing that?
When I am writing music for Twilight's Embrace I am trying to bring a 'dark' sound but there are many different ways to attempt that - slower tempos, dissonant harmonies, aggressive vocals, and so on. However I don't really think about moods and feelings when composing the songs. Andy's lyrics often deal with quite serious topics and that can obviously affect the way that a listener perceives the song, too.
I have always felt the voice is an instrument as well. On this record we hear a of of different uses of the vocals: clean, black metal screams, death metal grunts, and they all sound really good and add something to that part of the song. Is Andy Walmsley responsible for all of this? If so, how does he manage this? And if not, who does what?
All the vocals on the EP are by Andy. He brings a lot of experience from the other bands and projects that he performs in, and it really is just a matter of practice to be able to deliver all those different approaches. We record demos of the songs before we record the full versions so that we can see which vocal styles fit which sections best, and layer in the backing vocal lines where needed.
Speaking of the voice as instrument: I can really enjoy different languages (I do want to understand what is being said/sung though), and also the accents that non-English people have when they sing in English. For instance Eisregen's German manages to really capture some of the brutality they sing about and Fernande Ribeiro's (Moonspell) Portuguese accent is very charming in the more sensitive parts he sings. On this EP the part that moves me most are the clean vocals on the song 'Penance', they manage to create a very honest and tragical image. It would probably conjure a very different atmosphere if not sung by an English person. What is your opinion on this topic (in general, not necessarily the examples)?
That is an interesting observation. One review of one of our early EPs commented on how distinctively English our old vocalist Dee sounded, but he's actually got an Irish background. It goes to show how much the delivery style of a vocalist can change the way the lyrics and indeed the band are perceived. I think there are various ways you can approach being a singer in a band. Some vocalists try to work as if they are some sort of actor playing a role, and often you can hear fake American accents from British musicians as they adopt some sort of stage persona that both acts and sounds different to their normal lives. Other vocalists try and stay very true to themselves, keeping their native accent and developing their unique voice, which might not make them sound like a "rock star" on day one, but which helps to establish their own identity in a crowded scene.
To me 'Penance' is pretty much a perfect song. Can you please tell us, as extensively as you want to, what inspired you to write this song? I mean, both musically and lyrically?
Thank you! Musically speaking, this song came together as a mix of two or three old riffs that were left over from earlier writing sessions, and a lot of work to add new parts to weave them together into a cohesive whole. I wanted to cover both slower and faster tempos, to include inspirations from a few different sources, to use a few different guitar tones and textures, and to have a couple of unusual key changes to add a bit of interest. Once I'd done all that, the song was finished! Lyrically, Andy considers himself a "lapsed Catholic" and while he has abandoned any form of religious belief, he finds a lot of the imagery has stayed with him. In this song he's taken some of the themes from Catholicism such as confession, absolution, and penance, and used them to tell his own tale about guilt and forgiveness.
You have also decided to put a cover of Paradise Lost's 'It's Too Late' on the album. A great choice. You manage to really catch the melancholic atmosphere of the original yet put it in a very different shape. As you said yourselves: "This may be what it would have sounded like had they not gone so deeply into the lands of synthesizers." Why this song?
Most of the band love Paradise Lost, so that was an easy choice to make, but we also had a desire to choose a song where the original version sounds very different from our usual delivery. We could have picked any song on the 'Host' album for this, but after a short deliberation process this is what we chose, and I'm very happy with how it came out. The original sounds really simple, but it has key changes, layers of strings, vocal harmonies, and a long outro, all of which gave us some room to experiment without changing the song significantly.
And how do you feel about the opinion that some people have who say covers are not done?
We're not a covers band and never will be. We weren't even sure about putting this on the EP until relatively late in the pre-production process. In general covers are interesting and they are a way of potentially reaching a new audience, but not everyone enjoys them and that is okay. It will probably be a long time before we do another one.
I have always wondered about what happens when a band decides to do a cover, in the sense of, do you just ring the artist and ask for permission? Or is there a lot more involved? And, as far as you know, does it happen a lot that a band simply says no?
The truth is a lot longer and a lot more boring than you might think. Usually a signed band is not able to say no to a cover, because they assigned their composition copyright to a publisher, and that publisher in turn has licensed those rights to a collections society, who then in turn sell licenses to bands like ours. Those licenses turn out to be surprisingly cheap but also full of restrictions, such as saying you can put the song on a CD, but not on a streaming service, and definitely not alongside a video. And it gets even more complicated if you need to change the song at all, like we did by adding some guitar parts and Jack's solo, because then you need to do all the above AND ask the band and publisher as well, because they only signed over the rights to the original composition, not the rights to produce a slightly-adapted version of it like ours. To cut a long story short, it's a very boring process and probably won't be one we go through again!
'Host', the album that originally contains the song 'It's Too Late', is considered an experimental album. A lot of bands, including Metallica, Morbid Angel, and the aforementioned Paradise Lost, have had experimental phases and this is always a topic of fervid discussion among metalheads. Some of these phases are considered more successful than others. What do you think about these phases? Is it something every band will go through at one point?
Back in the 90s I was very disappointed when Paradise Lost released 'One Second' and then 'Host', just as I was (to a lesser extent) with Metallica's 'Load' and 'Reload' phase. As a younger metal fan in the 90s there were only a handful of bands I really cared about and so for them to decide that they wanted to do something different meant that part of my culture felt like it was being taken away. It validated the wider idea that heavy metal was just a phase that everyone would grow out of, including my favorite musicians. But, as an older fan, with the benefit of both hindsight and access to a wider range of bands, it feels like less of a big deal because if one band stops making the music you love, there are always others to enjoy.
From the perspective of a musician, I can understand why they might want to explore different sounds and approaches and express different parts of their creativity, especially when it is their full time job. Personally I prefer each band to have a strong musical identity and therefore there will never be a Twilight's Embrace 'experimental' phase - I have different musical projects for those different ambitions, and the other members of the band have their own projects that give them this outlet as well.
You have recently shot your first video, for 'Dying Earth'. I was wondering how shooting a video like that goes. Is it a fun experience or something you just need to do? If you do not mind, tell me about what that entire day looks like and how you feel about the end result.
This was our first proper music video so it was an entirely new experience for us. We never wanted to do the standard cheap video that so many bands do these days, namely playing the instruments in a dark room or a warehouse, so we had to come up with a concept that would fit the music. We planned out the basic storyline in advance and came up with ideas for each shot, but on the day we had to adapt to the weather and the environment. The director would tell us which shot we'd do next, we'd discuss it, then act it out. We repeated this for about five hours. It was a fun day, although as time went on we got colder and wetter, as you can see in the video! We're very happy with the result and we know it would be hard to do better with the kind of budget we have, so hopefully it captures the mood of our music and gives people something more interesting to watch than most other band videos. We'd love to make more videos but they are not cheap to do, especially for a band like ours with long songs.
As one of the final questions: what can we expect from Twilight's Embrace in the near future? Is there going to be more music? Any chance we will be seeing you on tour in Europe?
Some songs are already written for the follow up to ‘Penance’, which will be a full-length album. Hopefully the rest of the songs will appear soon afterwards. I wouldn't want to predict when it would be ready, but it will be a much shorter wait than there was between 'By Darkness Undone' and 'Penance'. As for a tour in Europe, we'd love to do that, but we can only play where the promoters want us to play. We know there is a great scene for this sort of music in The Netherlands, in Belgium, and in Germany, so hopefully if a few promoters are willing it could happen.
And finally, if I have forgotten anything or you would just like to say something to our readers, please feel free to do so.
Thanks for letting us do this interview! Check out our video for Dying Earth, and hopefully we will see you on tour one day!