How did this cooperation between Don and Aaron come into being? When did you meet and how did it develop into a four piece band?
Giant Squid and Agalloch were both on the End Records about the same time. They had been on the label for quite a bit longer when we joined in 2005/06. When we first visited The End Records office in Salt Lake City, Utah, the label would let us take anything we wanted from the promo shelves, so many of us walked out with piles of CDs and such. I have to admit that a lot of it didn't really speak to me, which was always a struggle I had with that label, but outside of The Gathering and Crisis, Agalloch was a band that jumped out of the pile. It was ‘The Mantle’ especially that made me ask everyone else in Giant Squid, "Hey, did you guys grab this record? It's really strange and beautiful!"
Turns out that they were also fans of our first record released by The End entitled, ‘Metridium Fields’. This led to us playing their CD release show for ‘Ashes Against The Grain’ in Portland, OR, and we went on from there to keep in touch and become friends. Don would take me to breakfast every time Giant Squid came through and played Portland, always with the latest Agalloch record under his arm to give us. That meant a lot to me. And of course I already knew Aesop from Giant Squid and Ludicra touring together, and just being a fixture in the Bay Area music scene. I was a fan of Ludicra long before that tour. I'm also fairly confident that my high school punk band, The Pedestrians, played with his old band, Hickey, at some community center show with like ten other bands in the early nineties.
When I saw how messy the split up of Agalloch was becoming, I was one of the first to speak up online for Don, Jason and Aesop while it seemed countless fans praised and encouraged John only. They saw that and deeply appreciated it, which got us talking. I casually mentioned, "Hey, if you guys end up starting a new thing, consider my resume in the pile." Turns out, they were literally already thinking that very same idea, so it seemed fate was playing itself out. And there wasn't really any other talk about more members. They wanted me to sing and play guitar, so the configuration would stay the same as they were used to.
With grand experience in former bands such as Agalloch and Giant Squid, did you have any musical directions in mind you decided to explore in Khôrada?
I was really excited about trying to keep up with Don on guitar. I'm not really a metal guy, not even remotely close in comparison to how deeply passionate and knowledgeable these guys are about it. So the idea of sitting down and writing some riffs that were "metal" through and through, was very enticing and challenging to me. I love metal, don't get me wrong, but only because I REALLY love music and the things I love most about music tends to happen the most in metal. But I was just as eagerly, and maybe even secretly, channelling a lot of bands I grew up with, like Midnight Oil, The Cure, and even the Subhumans.
In regards to metal, again, the other guys can list off a thousand bands they know like the back of their hand; me not so much. But there were two bands that we all agreed were a good sonic starting point, and that was Yob and Neurosis. Those two bands do everything right, and everyone in Khôrada loves and appreciates their work. I think it was more their integrity, vision, and emotional rawness that was inspiring to us though, because from there on out in Khôrada's writing process, there was hardly ever a moment where we wrote material that sounded anything like those bands. It was more about achieving that level of strength, attack, cohesiveness, confidence and hunger; transcending metal norms and making music for music's sake. I said from our very first meeting that I wanted this band to sound hungry. I think we accomplished that by pure virtue of us feeling that way as we created these songs.
How did you come to the band name Khôrada and what does it stand for?
It was actually originally conceived by Don's wife. Don was really feeling the ancient Greek word, khôra, which means a number of things, from a physical open space outside a busy city, to a state of existence that is neither being nor non-being; a weird somewhat intangible in between space. Khôra had been taken by many small bands, so Christine suggested adding 'da' to it to make our own word. It was the very first name proposed, and eventually the one we came back to, but there were months of us going back and forth throwing countless names at each other. Every song name on ‘Salt’ was a proposed band name at some point.
How did the lengthy songs shaped themselves? How did you approach the song-writing for 'Salt' and what was different from previous experiences for both of you?
It's difficult being in a long distance band. For those guys, they were used to emailing riffs and parts back and forth. But for me it was very different and a bit challenging. Giant Squid almost always would write in a room together, come up with parts on the spot spontaneously. Someone would start with a riff or two, and then go from there. But Khôrada worked by us swapping riffs, or even big sections, via email. ‘Seasons of Salt’ and ‘Wave State’ both started with a couple Don riffs that I would go off on, writing corresponding parts on top, and then big sections in between, edit it all together in basic Garageband, then send it back to them. He'd add more layers, more riffs, extended outros, etc... then I'd write to those new additions. When there was enough of a structure, I'd take it to Aesop in Oakland where we'd play it live, make more tweaks because everything changes when you add the energy of drums and volume. We'd record it with a basic stereo mic rig and video camera, and then send that recording back to Don and Jason. They'd lay down their parts again, and Jason often mixed it all in his home studio.
Then finally, I'd find somewhere I could sit alone with a laptop, pop this flashed out demo into Garageband again and layer vocals on top. I live in a tiny house and have two young daughters. It's impossible to demo vocals there. So much of this would take place - no joke - sitting in my truck late at night, often in the rain, parked out of sight behind a Peruvian restaurant, way back in the alley next to my house. With the laptop set up on the center console between my front seats, I'd be hollering and screaming and singing my brains out in the back seat, lit up by the screen as I yelled into the night. It's the only place I could go where no one could hear me, or see me.
This song-writing happened while the rat race for a new US president was going on. It affected you in several manners. How did you experience that era personally?
This band was conceived before the election of November 2016. Agalloch broke up in May I believe that year, and we came together in concept at the very least shortly after that. Originally I intended it to be a vehicle for a strictly environmental message, but after Trump was elected, I had no choice. America is becoming a nightmare in so many regards, and it's deeply troubling, if not outright terrifying, to raise two young daughters in a country where the president has been accused of - and bragged about - sexually abusing women, has proven to be racist many times over, casually and openly supports extreme rightwing and white supremacist movements and their bad actors, and tears babies, infants, toddlers, and young children apart from their immigrant parents. Who knows, maybe we'll rent our house in California and come move to the Netherlands soon? Would you have us?! Haha... Actually, not really joking.
What did you fear for you as a musician? Or as a trusty, conscious citizen?
I fear my brown skin wife will be disrespected, mistreated, or outright harmed by an increasingly racist, white supremacist American society; even here in "liberal" California. I fear my mixed race daughters will be treated as inferior people, as citizens less deserving of equality and opportunity because of their gender. I fear when they get older, they won't know what a coral reef looks like, or even an ocean filled with healthy fish. Or they won’t know what a California sky looks like that isn't choked with brown smoke from wildfires or pollution. I fear they won't know what it is to walk through a truly beautiful natural environment without seeing a starbucks straw or plastic chip bag laying about. I fear there won't be enough fresh water and healthy food to sustain them or the communities they live in when I'm long gone and they have kids of their own. I fear a lot of things as a parent. And for fuck's sake, this current administration is doing nothing to prevent any of that. In actuality, they're exacerbating the most pressing problems the world faces. These are deeply scary times in America, and the world. Don't let anyone make light of that.
In this respect, can you go deeper into the lyrical contents of the songs on 'Salt'?
Well, they're mostly pertaining to all those fears and anxieties I mention above! There's a sort of chronological order to the record, starting with a recognition of mankind using up every last resource while knowing it ends in catastrophe. Then it explores the most likely outcome of a world covered in billions of human beings, but devoid of food and water. Cannibalism has always fascinated and repulsed me, but is such a common occurrence when people in extreme situations run out of food. It's taking place right now in many, many places in the world.
From that point, the album continues to reflect on how the pursuit of corporate profit crushes human needs, endangers communities, and how as a country we are witnessing it happen over and over again, from Flint Michigan's water crisis to the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. By midpoint in the record, there is a sort of acceptance in our impending doom, while struggling with the concept of finding some good in every tragic occurrence. This is personal reflection as much as it is in looking at the events taking place in the world. But it also sets up a very short and personal song about my own family, and the losses we've suffered, and how they shaped our lives today. Appropriately, the following song is a promise to my own children to protect them when everything falls, burns, or drowns, and finally a foretelling of what future cultures or even species will learn from our remains; if anything at all. It's not a concept album, but there is obviously a timeline of the end-days ahead that I'm loosely laying out here.
My favourite track is 'Ossify'. It has any catchy new wave influences I would say and the spatial part around 7' is ace. But can you tell something more about this great occluding track as creator of it?
That song started with a basic structure of fairly open riffs by Don. I loved it from first listen. It was strange, and even more strangely uplifting, but so catchy. The big groovy riffs and hooks I wrote on top of it came so naturally because I was really feeling those original hooks he laid out. I remember he kept altering his original parts to better fit what I was laying down and I had to stop him, because I insisted his stuff was perfect how it was. Don is very willing to mould and evolve parts to make room for my more hook driven type riffs, but I'm always putting my foot down because I love his original ideas so much, and prefer the dynamic and often juxtaposition of our vastly different guitar writing styles lining up like puzzle pieces.
For ‘Ossify’, we did our usual writing process as explained earlier in this interview, but this song is unique in that it contains one of the very few sections that resulted from most of us sitting in a room, and just riffing off of each other, and I love that part in question so much because of that.
It's also very unique in that it has those lush, gorgeous keyboards written and produced by Andrew Southard from Giant Squid. Andrew has a vast catalogue of electronic music that he has made over the last 15 years under the moniker, Young Aundee. His ability to write perfect, beautiful, complimentary keyboard parts to just about anything is profound, and we all feel he really transformed this song and made it what it is as much as anything we contributed.
How do you look at the recording process? Where did you eternalize the songs, with who and so on?
We worked with producer and engineer, Billy Anderson. He's quite the legend, with a discography behind him that includes Neurosis, High on Fire, Mr. Bungle, Pallbearer, and Agalloch, amongst literally hundreds of others. He recorded the first Giant Squid record, and so I've been close with him ever since, and he was the touring sound guy for Agalloch so of course those guys are close. He was the logical choice to help us create this new band. A producer like that has almost an equal part in the creation process, but would often stop what he was doing and ask, "Is this the right direction?" So we were bouncing ideas off of each other constantly.
With Billy, he has so many albums under his belt that I can reference stuff like, "I want this to be crazy deep and lush like Through Silver in Blood or crushingly heavy like Asunder's Clarion Call." And he's more than happy to oblige when and where possible. But he's also great at putting us in check. Don and I are both very capable of getting carried away in the studio. He had a mountain of stuff we recorded to sort through and figure out what was going to make it on the songs and what wouldn't.
Incidentally I hear trumpet, cello, keyboards... are there guests on the album?
Absolutely! I called in almost all of my Giant Squid band mates to contribute. I already mentioned Andrew Southard's contribution of keyboards on ‘Ossify’, which were enormous. The rest of the keys on the record I wrote and recorded at home, so that's what you're hearing on "Seasons of Salt", "Water Rights", and the end of "Wave State".
Now the cello is my wife, Jackie Perez Gratz, who is no stranger to the metal world, thanks to her own incredible band Grayceon, as well as being a long time member of Giant Squid and Amber Asylum. She's also the go to person if you need perfectly written and played dark, heavy, heartbreaking cello parts, which is why you hear her on so many records by bands like Agalloch, Om, Neurosis, Cattle Decapitation, etc... Her resume is huge! So having her contribute was a no brainer, especially after I wrote the song "Glacial Gold" which seemed perfectly suited for her signature sound.
The epic trumpet work is there thanks to a long time friend and collaborator, Nathan Perkins. Nate played trumpet on Giant Squid's The Ichthyologist as well as some of my earlier punk rock band's records. We both came up in the same punk scene in Sacramento, CA. Like Andy and Jackie, he has the uncanny ability to write the perfect part for the songs, no matter how heavy or weird they may be. He doesn't even listen to metal, which is why his parts are so cool. He's approaching the songs as pure musical movements, not some genre restricted thing that he must adhere to. We recorded his tracks right in his own living room with Bryan Beeson from Giant Squid engineering it.
Finally, and speaking again of Bryan Beeson, we have these strange and beautiful interludes that serve as intro and outro to the song "Water Rights". They were created and recorded by Bryan who used to do sound effect work for digital motion comics, so this was right up his alley. Some of what you're hearing is actually from a Giant Squid practice where I took my guitar, turned on all my pedals - including a harmonist pedal which kicks the signal up and down an octave - and then faced the guitar directly into a huge industrial air fan that was cooling our rehearsal room. The air coming out activated the strings and created this crazy guitar chord swelling wave sound. Bryan quickly recorded it on the spot. A couple years later, when I asked him to contribute something, he found that recording and created the intro to "Water Rights" for us, along with the weird wind sounds that meld that track into "Glacial Gold".
How did the cooperation with eminent label Prophecy Productions come into being?
That came about thanks to a prior relationship that Don had with Prophecy, I think due to Agalloch or his work with Sol Invictus; both, I'm sure. But they were very eager to work with us and offered us everything we needed to make this happen. Their obsessive attention to detail and quality in their packaging made this the clear choice, especially when seeing how they make boxsets and other types of special additions. Plus, they have some fantastic bands on the roster, like Alcest. Hopefully we'll hit the road with some of those guys soon.
How would you describe the Khôrada sound yourself? Will you build upon this debut album to develop in future or can next album be completely different? Or is this a onetime experiment?
That's a great question and one I don't know if I really have the right answer for. At this point, we know how Khôrada can sound. We know what works and I feel like we stretched those limits fairly far on Salt; from soft country folk to blast beats and doom dirges. But that there lies the enticing challenge of just how much further can we stretch what is now expected of us, for before no one knew what to expect! Now people have heard several songs and are starting to gather a general idea, though there are some yet revealed stylistic surprises for surely left on Salt! I want to challenge our selves again, but also refine what we've established as being possible in the general "sound" of this band. It has to feel right. It also depends on what the lyrical content will be as that has a big influence on how the music should support it. But for now, we're focusing on ‘Salt’, and getting out there to play these songs live.
Can you tell something about the artwork, the artist Cedric Wentworth and its symbolism?
Cedric was an instructor of mine at the Academy of Art, University. He was my History of Modern Art professor, but also was a director of the sculpture department there for a while. He no longer teaches there, but after I graduated, I maintained a great friendship with him, partnering on many projects from gallery shows to small design companies.
Him and I have spent many evenings sitting in his massive warehouse studio in San Francisco, talking about the state of the world and our country, humanity, music, art, history, beer, rock music. We feel strongly about many of the same things and share much of the same angst and anxieties of the world. He expresses those feelings through his visceral art, and I express it through music. So when the band started talking about imagery and album art, I brought this all up with the guys, who were very excited to see how we could combine these two different expressive mediums.
All the art you see in our packaging is existing work he had in his studio. None of it was created for us. If anything, we had these images early on in the writing process and were consciously influenced by them as we created these songs. We're deeply honoured that Cedric was so generous and eager to allow us to basically ransack his studio and use anything we found for the visual identity of this album.
Do you have further visual aspects in mind to support the album, like video clips or something in that style?
We'd love to do a video! But alas, that's something we'd have to have someone else make and produce. Our hands are full with the band, work, families, and interviews like this! But I could certainly see many of our songs translating perfectly in to a visual medium like that.
Are there plans to play live? What are the plans for the near future?
Absolutely. This was always the goal and is something we're putting together now. As the other guys have stated in many other interviews, Khôrada isn't going to be a band that tours half the year. We're limited by career and family obligations. Don and I are both teachers, so Summers will be when we're most active. Though we are hoping to fly out and play as many festivals as possible in the near future. And, we're currently scheduling some regional shows on the West Coasts of the US to support the release of the record.
If there is something you'd like to add, feel free to do it here... J
Thanks to all the extremely supportive fans of both Agalloch and Giant Squid who approached Khôrada with an open mind and no expectations getting in the way of them enjoying our music. We all really hope you enjoy the full record. And, unlike the other guys in the band, I've never been to any EU nation outside of Greece! So I personally can't wait to tour Europe and make it to the Netherlands! Hope to see your beautiful country soon.