Your second album, 'The Burial' Tree, was my introduction to Ana Kefr. I suppose I'm not the only one, so please introduce the band to our readers. What happened until you reached this point in your career?
Well, beginning at the beginning, I had been living in Egypt for three years, working in the film industry there as a casting director. I came back to the States for what I thought was going to be a brief visit, to spend maybe three or four months 'home' before returning to Egypt. Obviously, my plans didn't work out that way. I ended up meeting Kyle through someone I knew, Kyle had been playing in bands for a while up until then. Kyle and I began writing together, and basically all my plans to return to Egypt were thrown away. I've jammed with a handful of people over the years, but I've never 'clicked' the way Kyle and I work together. We don't have to speak or debate or work through anything, we naturally are on the same page so it makes working together literally effortless.
We began with a different line-up, originally a band without a bass player, believe it or not! We played one of our first shows with My Ruin and Into Eternity, we were the opening band and My Ruin loved us. I became close friends with Tairrie and Mick, they kind of showed me how to operate a band professionally. Their shared wisdom has done a lot for us, without their initial guidance I don't think we'd be where we are today. We recorded our debut album, 'Volume 1', probably nine months after the band initially formed, Tairrie and Mick did guest appearances on the final track. We received a fair amount of positive press for the album, played shows with Exodus, Taproot, Death by Stereo, again with My Ruin. It was about six months after our first album that our former lead guitarist quit, and shortly after we fired our former drummer. At that point, the band was down to just Kyle and I, and stripping it back to just us two fueled our creativity and we began to write. In fact, I would say half or more of 'The Burial Tree' came out of the period when there was no one else to input on the writing but Kyle and I.
Within a couple weeks, I found Brendan, who is our lead guitarist and saxophonist now. Ironically, we had performed before with his previous band, but now he was looking to move on to something new and he brought with him Shane, a drummer with years of experience in drumline/drumcore and jazz band. Brendan insisted on finding a bassist, and within a week he found Alphonso. The new line-up came together easily, naturally, without too much time passing. Kyle and I caught up the guys on our older material, and we got back out and started performing again. With the new line-up, we found that our fanbase started expanding more than it had before. A few months passed and we recorded 'Tonight We Watch the Children Fucking Burn', a single released to commemorate the one year anniversary of our first album, but now a song featuring the new members. After that, we continued performing and working on new material on the side. It was around June of 2010 that we took a couple months away from performing to focus completely on 'The Burial Tree', and in November of 2010 we entered the studio to record it. Since its completion, we've had a huge response to the record and we couldn't be happier!
It is very hard to classify 'The Burial Tree'. It sounds quite modern and your palette of influences appear to be quite broad. Could you shed some light on this?
I'd definitely say 'The Burial Tree' is a modern metal album, there's very little of the old-school vibe present in our music. That isn't to say we're not influenced by classic metal, but what naturally comes out when we write doesn't have that element shining in it. The truth is, we are a metal band whose members come from very un-metal backgrounds. Some of us have jazz backgrounds, others come from classical, others rock. We all love metal, but I wouldn't say metal music is the kind of music you will hear us all listening to constantly. We all have very diverse tastes, and that applies to playing and writing music as well - when you are able to play a multitude of styles, it almost seems like crippling creativity to stick within one specific corner of music.
We believe that if a certain style can flow naturally into something totally different, without sounding negatively strange, it is worth a try. To segue from black metal into dramatic jazz can sound incredible, it just takes the right writing and attention to make it work. While a lot of bands seem to find their corner of metal and then stick to it, we find it more adventurous, challenging and interesting to try new things always, to not repeat the same idea again and again. Our next album will be different from 'The Burial Tree' just as 'The Burial Tree' is different from 'Volume 1'. We are not interested in defining ourselves as one thing, we want to act as 'artists' in the fullest sense of the word by challenging ourselves, always moving forward, never dipping back into the creative paintbuckets we've used in the past.
It seems that you have been influenced by atmospheric black metal bands like Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. It took quite long for these bands to get anywhere in the U.S., and I think they're still operating on a smaller scale than in Europe. What makes this kind of music so 'European', and how are people reacting to you more or less incorporating elements from the Old World and the New World?
Black metal was my gateway to metal in general, it is what introduced me to extreme music. I am primarily a classical-influenced musician, so when I found music that blended the orchestration of classical music with dark, extreme metal, I was instantly addicted. I love the atmosphere. I'm not completely sure what makes atmospheric black metal such a European phenomenon. I know there are American black metal bands but, let's be honest, they will never have the kind of staying power and influence that European black metal has had on the music scene. There will probably never be an American equivalent of Bathory. Part of me wonders if it is the longer history that Europe has had. The United States is such a young country, compared to European countries. The USA doesn't have much of a history of Vikings or Druids or Pagan roots.
Regarding the reaction to our music, we've mostly had positive reactions. Every now and then, we'll find a metal 'purist' absolutely hates it because, in the 'purist' opinion, we are ruining metal by doing experimental things with it. We don't see what we do as 'watering down' or 'weakening' metal, however, we see it as the logical next step for moving forward with an idea that has already been used a million times. There are thousands of metal bands out there, and many of them sound exactly the same. There is no point to starting a band that sounds like Death or Morbid Angel or Carcass if there are already bands like Death or Morbid Angel or Carcass, unless people just enjoy starting cover bands or rip-off sound-alikes. Still, we understand that what we do won't be everyone's cup of tea, so to speak. Some will love, some will hate, some won't give a shit either way! :)
You have an extensive lyrical concept, which is it first perhaps slightly confusing for the uninitiated. Please explain.
Well, 'The Burial Tree' takes a lot to explain. I remember that, just after I completed the lyrics, I went to type out the explanation of what it all means, and all the hidden connections and significance, so I could give the guys in the band something to read so they would understand the album fully. I was about ten pages into explaining it all - still explaining the title of the album after ten pages! - and realized it would take too much. So, I will have to give you a brief, somewhat superficial glance at some of the concepts.
Ana Kefr, first and foremost, generally deals with all of its concepts and subjects through a very humanist, atheistic lens. This is the base philosophy behind things, the idea that we - all of sentient life - exist in a natural universe (meaning, without the assistance of, interference of or the existence of a 'supernatural' force). Reason, logic, ethics, truth and justice are the primary pillars that every other concept stands upon.
'The Burial Tree' runs somewhat like a newer version of the Socratic Dialogues, a conversation between the Initiated and the Initiate, the Enlightened One beneath the Bodhi tree answering the questions of truth-seekers. What is probably confusing is using symbolism and imagery from religions to discuss or lambast faith itself. This, on the surface, appears to be some kind of hypocrisy or contradiction, but the use of these symbols is very different from the ways they've been used before. Black becomes white, and white becomes black. The album is a search for truth in a world clouded with misinformation and lies, and one idea that stays consistent in the album is the idea that ignorance has been given a kind of power in the world today. People say 'ignorance is bliss,' or 'what you don't know won't hurt you,' almost excusing ignorance as if it is somehow a blessing in disguise. If this is true, then to be enlightened is to experience suffering, to know and live the truth is a bitter thing. This idea occurs in the line from “Emago” – “For, if from ignorance hails bliss, then with enlightenment comes the abyss and hopelessness.” The search for truth is often painted out to be a pleasant, light-hearted thing, but reality shows that truth is often brutal, morose and cold, indifferent. Despite whatever thorns may be on the path towards truth, the search is still worth it. “The Burial Tree” is, in its own way, a painful path on the road to truth, but the pain is not entirely nihilistic and hopeless. There is hope in a godless universe.
Where, and how, was 'The Burial Tree' recorded?
'The Burial Tree' was recorded at Lunch-Box Studios in Perris, California from November of 2010 to January of 2011. It was engineered by an old school friend of both Brendan and Shane, David Franklin, and was produced by the band along with David. We began by recording the drums to metronome tracks, took about four days to record the drum parts and find the best tones for the drums on the album. We wanted the drums to sound as natural as possible, with a bit of breathing room around them so it didn't have the triggered feel to it. David is a drummer, so he invested a special interest in making the album's percussion pop and sound the best it can, and he contributed a few ideas to the drumming itself on the album, just to make it the best that it could be.
We then spent about a week and a half recording the rhythm, lead and bass guitars; I believe we used something like six or seven different amps and heads to find the best tones for rhythm parts, leads, solos and effected pieces. Brendan and Kyle used their normal guitars for the recording. Alphonso used primarily his fretless bass for most parts, but brought in a fretted bass for 'Jeremiad' and an acoustic stand-up bass for 'Apoptosis'. The keys were next, recorded over the course of two days; I used the keyboard I used on our first album, a Casio that looks like an absolute piece of garbage but that has some very big-sounding strings and organs on it. I also used a keyboard I bought a month or two before entering the studio, a Roland keyboard that is an absolute beast. The Roland's orchestral and piano sounds are strikingly realistic, and the keyboard has weirder controls to bring out really cool textures. We spent one day recording acoustic guitars, saxophone, clarinet, timpani, rattlesnake rattle and djembe, as well as guest female vocalist Nikki Simmons.
The vocals were basically the final piece of the puzzle, recorded over about three or four days, Kyle, Brendan and I taking turns with our parts to give one another a chance to warm up and recover vocally before going back into the vocal booth. The recording process was both very relaxed and on a somewhat tight schedule. We wanted to take our time with finding the best sound, and also knew we couldn't stay in the studio forever. There were quite a few things that were re-written or re-worked in the studio; sometimes, when you can suddenly hear what everything is doing completely clearly, you realize that your original idea doesn't work as well as you thought, so you have to quickly re-write to keep things going.
The album is released on a label that was previously unknown to me, Blasphemafia Metal. Given the absence of any information on the internet I have to assume you did all by yourselves. Is that correct?
Yes, we did do this all by ourselves. Blasphemafia Metal is actually our publishing name, through the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. We used the label name of Muse Sick, but this is our imprint label – meaning we are an independent band, releasing music through our own avenues. Most bands these days seem to dream of being taken onto a label, but the reality is that the days of million-dollar record contracts are over. A label is kind of like a bank these days, they loan you insane amounts of cash to get you touring, supply you with merchandise, get your album distributed in stores everywhere, but the band has to pay every penny back and, more often than not, many bands end up deeply in debt to their labels. Yes, they may become household names, but they also can't afford their own houses! I recall quite a few stories about major label artists, bands who would be recognized by name by any metal fan, who can't afford to pay their apartment rent even though they've just been touring the world for a year. I think that it is important to hold onto your roots, to stay as independent as possible, because by doing this you prove your worth. A true artist makes their art because they love the art. Making money is a nice possible outcome, but should never interfere with the love of art itself.
Apparently there have been a few line-up changes. Does this affect you future plans? What can we expect from this line-up, recording-wise, in the future?
Our major change in the line-up would be bringing in a new drummer, lead guitarist and bassist, and this was almost two years ago. At the time, we had to slow down to catch them up on our older material, but once that was accomplished I found us to be moving faster than ever before. Everyone in the band now has a much more mature attitude towards making music and running the band as a sort of business. I'd say it has affected future plans by bringing a new ambition into the band. We were already driven before, but with new blood in the band it feels like things have been pushed up a notch in intensity. It feels like we are dreaming bigger, setting larger goals, and meeting larger goals as well. As far as future recordings, I feel confident enough in everyone's developing abilities to say that our future material will probably offer an even more polished sound than what is on 'The Burial Tree'. Don't get me wrong, I'm very proud of what we have done with our new album, but I also know that it is the first album Shane and Alphonso have ever done, it's the first album that all five of us have done together, and with more time, shows, writing and experience, we'll find newer ways to harmonize with one another, to improve upon everything. I personally expect future material to get tighter, more perfected, yet still varied and adventurous. The goal is perfection, and we still have plenty of room to grow!
How about live performances? Are they in the making?
Yes, we are in the process of putting together our first tour right now. It isn't a big tour, it is our first so we're basically testing the waters to see how it goes. We are, as of now, planning to hit the road with two other bands we know, experimental rock/metal bands, a West-coast tour of the United States. We've played heavily in southern California, once in Las Vegas, and it's time to get out of our comfort zone. We plan on putting together a couple more tours for this album, and we're also keeping our eyes out for the opportunity to buy onto a larger tour with more established bands for the experience and exposure that could bring. So many possibilities!
Thanks for the interview. Any closing comments?
Thank YOU for the interview and for taking the time to put this together, I appreciate it!