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Aboleth

On their album 'Benthos', Aboleth manages to seamlessly combine the raw, gritty sound of the desert scene with themes that have developed on the grey and twilight bottom of the ocean. A "starting" band that delivers their music with enthusiasm and conviction. We talked to singer and siren Brigitte Roka and baguitarist (that is a real word) Collyn McCoy, who started this band together. Let's dive into the obscure mind of Aboleth.

By: Bart M. | Archive under stoner

Congratulations with such an amazing debut! I have not heard the EP yet, but this one blew my mind. Aboleth is a relatively new band, so can you tell our readers a bit about who you are, where you are from and how you hooked up?
Brigitte: Thank you so much! We're based in Los Angeles. I grew up there and a couple years ago I found Collyn washed up on the beach with some driftwood. He said he floated here from somewhere in America that's not LA (so hell if I know where that is). Anyway, I was in between bands at the time and he was lookin for a singer. It was fate!

Collyn: Well, B, you know I don't believe in fate. Long story short, I stole Brigitte from another band. They had a "bassist wanted" advert up on the corkboard at my rehearsal space and one day I had some time to kill so I checked it out. I was really blown away by Brigitte's voice. It was like everything I'd ever wanted in a singer. Equal parts Robert Plant, Chris Cornell, Ian Gillan, Ray Gillen and Janis Joplin. So I reached out to her on Facebook and wooed her into jamming.

The name Aboleth to me represents a powerful creature of the deep sea, with vast psychic powers. I used to play a lot of Dungeons & Dragons and I think this is where the name comes from. It used to be one of my favourite creatures to let loose. Is this indeed where you got the name? And why did you choose it?
Collyn: Excellent, a fellow RPG nerd! I also spent a good amount of my pre-teen and early teen years rolling D12 and 20s. And of all the monster manual foes I found aboleths the most intriguing. They were horrible sea monsters but also very intelligent and had fairly advanced underwater societies. Aboleths were also TSR's nod to the Lovecraft mythos and I discovered Lovecraft concurrent to my D&D phase, mostly thanks to Metallica, actually.

Brigitte: Most of our name ideas were aquatic from the start, actually. Aboleth ended up being the one that felt right! We draw from a few different genres of music and the name sounds ambiguous enough to complement that. Plus it appeals to our inner nerdiness. Quite a few people have found us just from looking up DnD related things, and it's always extra cool when people recognize where the name comes from!

The title of your album, 'Benthos', is also a reference to things that live under the ocean's surface. Why did you choose the nautical theme? Is this going to be a recurring thing?
Brigitte: The name came after I made the album artwork, which I wanted to correspond with our band name and eel logo. I'm very inspired by the ocean and marine life in general, and I'm an avid free diver, so I feel really at peace on the ocean floor. Therefore aquatic themes end up in my art all the time, and although I don’t plan for it to be the ONLY theme for Aboleth, it will probably recur quite a bit.

I hear a lot of Sabbath-y stoner riffs on 'Benthos', it is great to see that even now bands take something ancient and manage to turn it into something fresh but familiar. I also thought I heard a guitar solo in 'Glass Cutter' that sounded like it could have come straight from a Judas Priest record. Can you tell us about a couple of bands or people that mean a lot to you and/or influenced the way you create music now?
Brigitte: Janis Joplin. Surprise! Haha. When I was three years old my mom would blast our Janis cassette in the car and we'd sing all the songs together over and over. She and everyone she listened to are huge inspirations, singers like Odetta and Bessie Smith. But I'm a melting pot of influences; I grew up on Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, and Soundgarden was my favorite band in high school. So Robert Plant and Chris Cornell definitely rubbed off on me a lot, as did Steven Tyler's expressiveness and phrasing. I love Queen and am constantly learning from Freddie's mastery. I'm also a huge fan of Rush and Ween.

Collyn: Well Sabbath and Priest are definitely massive influences. But beyond the obvious metal and stoner rock stuff (obligatory shout out to Kyuss!), I'm really influenced by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Furry Lewis, Son House, Lighnin' Hopkins, RL Burnside, Chris Whitley, Nick Cave, Derek Trucks, Billy Gibbons, Lowell George, and Kelly Joe Phelps. Oh, and Rush.

One of the things that stand out on this album are Brigitte's vocals. Is this all natural or did she learn how to use her voice like this? I ask because it sounds like it must have a great toll on her vocal cords, so I am really curious how she keeps her voice in shape.
Brigitte: Haha you know, I was singing in the shower one day and my voice naturally "found" that placement where I get the rasp from. Before then I used to sound like Ann Wilson, my voice was totally clean! I'd say it's natural because it feels natural to sing the way I do, it doesn't hurt or anything and I just do it intuitively. I'm still learning how to control the really growly stuff, like on 'Wovenloaf' and 'Wytches', and need someone to teach me how to healthily use my voice that way. To keep in shape I do warm ups almost every day that were taught to me by Steven Tyler's voice coach, Gary Catona, who I met by chance at an Aerosmith concert!

Another thing that aroused my curiosity is Collyn's baguitar. You must get questions about this all the time, so forgive me in advance, but please, tell us more about this instrument and how it came into existence!
Collyn: I do get asked about it all the time, but luckily I love talking about it! A lot of people assume that what I'm playing is a guitar. But actually, it's a bass. A Bass VI to be exact – which is a six-string bass with a neck width and scale similar to a guitar. However what I've done differently is add guitar strings. So I have the lows of a bass and the highs of a guitar on the same neck. And then I use two different signal paths that I run to a bass amp and guitar amp respectively, which sit on opposite sides of the stage. Thus "baguitar." As to how it came into existence, I actually "invented" it for my old band Trash Titan which was just me and a drummer, the incomparable Jeff Broady. I was playing a lot of slide guitar at the time, and wanted to use the slide and slide tunings without losing the bottom end. However I had no idea how huge it would sound once I plugged it in.

As a three-piece with an odd instrument and very strong vocals, is it easy to transfer the sound that you have in a live environment? Or does it have its own difficulties?
Collyn: I would say we had the opposite problem – trying to capture the live sound in the studio. However I think Ulrich Wild did an amazing job of capturing the largeness and heaviness of it all while keeping it pretty straight forward and raw.

Brigitte: I always say the best way to experience our band is live. It's all about the live feedback loop of the raw emotion and energy we put out there and the audience's engagement in it. Playing live with only two instruments and a vocalist definitely has its challenges, but all three of us work our asses off to nail our live sound, and we're constantly tweaking it and making it better.

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When I listen to the record I get the feeling a lot of the lyrics are personal and not always the easiest of content to talk about. I might have misinterpreted it (feel free to correct me), but I think some of the songs are about broken or failed relationships and how to deal with that. Who writes the lyrics, what are they about, and how much of them are based on real experiences?
Brigitte: You're right! Most of these are about relationships, but not just romantic ones. Some are about family, some are about fake friends. And they are in fact based on real people and experiences in my life. Three of those songs are even based on the same guy at different stages: falling in love, doubting your feelings, and breaking up. And the song 'Vinny Gets Arrested' is about a character from my ongoing art project "Sonarium". I wrote all the lyrics on the album except for the last two songs, which Collyn wrote. Fortunately he's good at writing songs about demons and wizards, which I suck at, so we make a good lyrics team

A song that especially moves me is 'The Devil'. At first I was afraid it was going to be yet another devil worshipping song, but it is anything but. Can you tell us what this song means to you?
Collyn: To me it's about the evil in human nature. We assign blame to some supernatural creature because it makes it easier to stomach. But really all that evil is coming from within, not without. As you're probably aware, we have a lot of mass shootings here in the States. Some normal schmuck with an AR-15 goes ballistic in a shopping mall. And every time it happens, everyone scrambles to point blame. To some people it's all "false flag" operations orchestrated by... I don't know, the Illuminati, or Obama. To others it's mental illness, or the gun lobby. It's just hard to accept that perfectly "normal" people are capable of such horrible acts.

I did notice some satanical paraphernalia in your videos. Actually they were just a couple of pentagrams, and I get the feeling this is all in good fun. I kind of like this contrast in the metal world, where on one side you have people who take the whole Satan-thing very seriously and ritualistically burn Bibles, and on the other side people who are also able to joke about the devil, and drench themselves in V8 wearing Seitan shirts. What is your take on this?
Brigitte: We do use a lot of it ironically, yeah. Neither of us are religious and The Church of Satan is really just a bunch of atheists who support individualism, so that's more or less our angle with it. But it also comes from our interest in the history of Satan, witchcraft and paganism, the latter of which I am very passionate about. I'm Russian, so Slavic pagan folklore and culture are something I incorporate a lot into my artwork and the witchy aspects of Aboleth. Aesthetically, our "version" of the Devil isn't necessarily the classic Baphomet archetype. We're more interested in the Devil from the Robert Johnson legend, the one you sell your soul to at a desert crossroads. I mean that's the whole vibe of our song 'The Devil', to tie back into your previous question.

Collyn: Satan is a lot of fun. Though I have a Catholic background, I'm not religious. I'm not even spiritual. But I do love the imagery and ritual of religion, all religions, from Catholicism to Tantra to the occult. I'm down with Jesus – and by that I mean the teachings attributed to a dude named Jesus who may or may not have existed 2000 years ago. But I also love Lucifer's fallen angel mythos. I'm a fan of Robert Anton Wilson's approach to religion: Sample all but believe none.

There is a tour planned for the US in May/June. Watching your videos it is obvious that you are no strangers to playing live in front of an audience. What are you looking forward to the most, thinking about this tour?
Brigitte: I'm just so excited to play our music to all kinds of people around the country! It's no secret that playing in LA is really tough nowadays so I'm looking forward to playing for music lovers from other places. I've never been to a lot of these cities and I really want to see what's out there, meet new people and have an adventure.

And can you tell us a couple of stories about things that happened at shows that you still talk about this day?
Collyn: Most of what has happened to this band thus far has been pretty tame. Bad PA monitors, missing drink tickets, but nothing "Hammer of the Gods" worthy. I think we're still in the process of building our war story library. I'm optimistic that our upcoming tour will provide us with many fine tales of rock n roll adventure to tell our grandchildren by the campfire.

Brigitte: Well maybe we don't have horror stories (probably a good thing, let's keep it that way) but it WAS pretty cool when Burton Bell (Fear Factory) ended up at two of our shows by chance, both times unrelated to one another.

As far as I am aware you now have two official videos for this album ('No Good' and 'Wovenloaf') and it seems you guys are having a lot of fun doing them. What does a day of recording video look like? And on a related note, how do you feel about fan-made live footage that finds its way online?
Collyn: Both of those videos were a lot of fun. And both came with their share of challenges. We've got some new stuff video-wise in the pipeline that I think is really going to push us into a new direction, visually-speaking. We really want to make video an equal component of what we do.

Brigitte: As far as the fan-made live footage, we love it! The more people posting it the better, especially on tour since we won't always have someone to take videos of our sets for us. We've had a lot of new fans tell us they discovered us from our live videos online.

Finally, I want to wish you good luck and a lot of fun with your oncoming tour. I really hope to see you one day in Europe! If there is anything you would like to tell our readers, please feel free to do so.
Collyn: We would also love to see ourselves in Europe, sooner rather than later! So if you're reading this and you're a fan of what we do, the best thing would be to let your local promoters know that you'd like to see us play live. We'd love to play Roadburn, Desertfest, and all the other amazing metal and rock festivals that happen in Europe. And we'd love to get in the van and hit your local venue too. If there's a demand for it, we'll do everything we can to make it happen.

Brigitte: And don't be shy, feel free to reach out to us on Facebook or Instagram! Or if you catch one of our shows, come chat with us at our merch table! Like Collyn said, if you like our album and wanna see us play please spread the love so we can make it happen :) Also thank you to Bart Meijer and Lords of Metal for the awesome interview!

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