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Ancestors

Na zes jaar stilte is Ancestors terug als een herboren band en de heren hebben een dijk van een plaat neergezet met 'Suspended In Reflections'; het nieuwe album gaat diep en blijft dichtbij de luisteraar terwijl het heel vakkundig emoties los schroeft die je wellicht ver had weg gestopt. Wij praten met gitarist Justin Marranga over de jaren tussen dit album en het vorige, hoe alles verandert en de huidige staat van de band.

Door: Bart M. | Archiveer onder doom metal

It has been six years since 'In Dreams And Time' and, subtly obviously, quite a lot has changed since then. This may sound as a complaint, but it is not, your new album is absolutely stunning, but why did it take so long?
As I’m sure you know, life has a way of navigating itself sometimes, regardless of what you may want. And time can pass. And continue passing. That’s pretty much what happened. Life stepped in the way for a while. We were writing on and off, and always keeping the band a subject of discussion. But as time passed, our vision of what we were doing shifted a bit, eventually driving us to work harder and more frequently. Two years of on-again-off-again studio sessions later, and here we are!

You are now a three man band. Can you tell us why some people decided to leave and what it was that made the three of you continue?
We went into the last record, 'In Dreams and Time', without a permanent drummer, due to some conflicts not worth discussing here. So by then we were really a 4-piece. After the record was finished, just as it was about to come out, our synth player’s then girlfriend got pregnant, so his life took a huge turn and he left the band. We added Daniel to the lineup around that exact same time, just as the record was coming out, so he’s been with us for the entire six year absence and we love him like a brother. As for why Nick left, you’d have to ask him! I think he was feeling disconnected from it all and felt the need to step away. But we’re all still buds. We wrote this new album as a three piece and at this point, we don’t feel much need to bring in anyone else to write and record. The trio dynamic seems to be perfect for us. Anyway, the thought of discontinuing the band never even occurred to Jason and I.

You said that as musicians you have grown exponentially, and I think 'Suspended In Reflections' is a very clear proof of that. As one of the reasons for this growth you mention stepping away from your egos. What does this mean, in your case, and how did egos clash and/or prevent Ancestors from growing in the past?
Egos were always an issue in Ancestors, as they are in most bands, and indeed most relationships. Everyone has a tendency to feel personally attached to certain aspects of the band and the music and when you tie your identity up in those things, you can lose sight of what might be best for the music itself. With five guys in a room writing music together, there are inevitably going to be clashes. But a lot of those clashes ended up more about attachment rather than what was best for the song. In writing and recording 'Suspended In Reflections' we tried to disconnect from the ego attachment to who did what, who played what, who wrote what, and we focused on making the best music we could make as three friends writing songs together.

I think a lot, if not all listeners do not notice any inhibitions that may have been present when you created other albums. I listen to 'In Dreams And Time' and all I hear is a music that I love hearing. Suppose you had been where you are now - not musically, but as persons - would any of your albums have sounded any differently?
Yes, of course they would! The performances would be better. Less tense. More fluid. More patience and caring collaboration in the writing process would have allowed us to make better melodic and dynamic choices in a lot of spots. We also have more resources and knowledge now. Oh and we’d probably spend more time on the vocals. BUT we were also limited by budget on every record we’ve made except 'Invisible White'. It’s tough to make records that grandiose (and that long… 'In Dreams And Time' is like 67 minutes long or something) when you’ve only got a handful of days in the studio to track and mix. A lot has changed technology-wise since then, and now we can be far more prepared when we go into a studio.

'Suspended In Reflections' is a title that conjures up quite a few interesting images. What made you decide on this title?
It’s reflctive of the album’s storyline.

The names of the songs are quite compelling as well. I am sure I am not the only one whose mind makes something totally doom from a seemingly simple title as 'Through A Window'. I have said it before but I think it really is an art to capture people's imaginations with just a couple of words. Is there a process behind this or is it just something that comes to mind one moment?
The song titles are reflective of the lyrical content.

Listening to the album, hearing how it's built up and reading the lyrics I get the impression that 'Reflections...' is a concept album. I wonder if you see it as such as well. Can you tell us more about how 'Suspended In Reflections' came to be and what the idea behind it is?
To some degree, almost everything we’ve done has been conceptual. I would say that this album is loosely about the mysteries of death and memory.

Another thing that makes me think of this as a concept album is that each song somehow invokes the same kind of intense emotions. I wrote about that in my review and what it comes down to for me personally is that it makes me deal quite heavily with the sense of loss that comes with experiencing temporary but utter bliss, whether real or imagined. Maybe you have answered this question partially already, but what feelings and emotions were your foundation to build this album on?
Oh, definitely all of the feelings that can encompass a life in reflection.

Was it a choice to make this album sound even more progressive than previous albums?
Nope. We just write. Well, progressive, as in like prog rock? Or progressive in the true sense of the word? Because we are always seeking to be a truly progressive rock band, and never a regressive rock band.

Somehow your music hits close to heart. I don't know if I can explain this the right way, but let's take for instance Anathema, their music triggers emotions, but it does so by painting vistas that are distant and cold, and 'Suspended In Reflections' never seems to go very far away from the listener, staying close to intense and familiar feelings and this makes the music warm and extra heavy. Can you explain this?
I don’t know if anyone can explain that. But I understand what you mean and it’s definitely something we want. Much of this album is quite melancholy and we very much want you to feel that melancholy, as opposed to just hearing it. If we’re successful in moving someone, then we are definitely accomplishing one of our unwritten goals.

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As I said before, I feel this album is actually one whole story and it would not do it justice to relese any one of the songs on it as a single entity, since that would make it something seperate. Later, I read you actually feel the same way. Why did you release 'The Warm Glow' before the rest of the album?
We had to release singles. Didn’t have much of a choice. And we live in such a singles-dominated music culture these days, it’s like it’s the 1950s… or the 80s. So we chose as best we could. ‘Gone’ was initially going to be the first single, but we needed more time to work on the music video. 'The Warm Glow' seemed a reasonable choice, as it’s probably the “heaviest” song on the album, production-wise, and we figured we might as well appease the people who have been waiting for new music from us for years!

You also released 'Gone' as a music video. I think the images catch the mood of the song perfectly. Can you tell us who is involved in creating this video and how in the end the result matches the song so well?
Yes and thank you! Our own Jason Watkins actually conceptualized and directed the video! This was his directorial debut, and I for one am thoroughly impressed (you try making a six minute music video with no band performance in it haha). Cinematography was our friend Brian Sowell (who you may know as the guitarist of Buried at Sea). It was superbly acted by Michael William Cavanaugh and Sarah Magladry. Beyond that, I have no answers. I was not involved!

Quite a number of bands at one point have the need to step away from what they have done up till then. Usually this means quite a change and a handful (or more) of disgruntled fans. I think the way that Ancestors have been developing is quite a natural process, and I'm wondering what your opinion is on bands that decide to do an instant, radical change.
Depends on the band. Sometimes those changes that sound abrupt aren’t actually as abrupt as they seem on the surface. Sometimes it’s a terrible decision!

Can you name some bands that you think have experimented and come out for the best? And the worst? (And why!)
Ulver, Cave In and Opeth have all made incredibly successful “radical” changes at one or more times in their careers. Robert Smith’s whole career is basically radical changes, and despite a few poor choices, he’s made soooo many brilliant ones.

Worst? Well… the 80s were pretty unkind to a lot of the bands from the 70s haha. It’s generally a mistake to hew too close to trends.

I keep writing 'Suspended In Dusk' whenever I talk about this album, I think it is because that song (Type O Negative) is one of my favorites. I notice quite often when talking to musicians that most of them are fanboys/girls just like the rest of us. Are there any bands or musicians that you get very excited talking about?
Of course! Too many to name. We’re going to put up a 7+ hour Spotify playlist soon, and that will contain a lot of the answers to this question.

If I am correct you have played Roadburn twice now. Once in 2010 and another time in 2012. Can you tell us how you have experienced your performances there, and also your memories of the festival itself?
Roadburn has been amazing both times. Such a great experience and we definitely hope to do it again. Walter and Jurgen have consistently put on an amazing festival that is tightly run and a lot of fun. And it’s like an alternate universe where we’re a well-known band hahaha.

You have planned a European tour with Elder. How do you feel about touring?
I can only speak for myself, but historically I’ve loved touring, but not loved the actual playing part. I have a lot of anxiety and have always found myself feeling very tense on stage. Recently I’ve learned better skills for coping with and battling that anxiety, and I’m very excited to get back out and play shows with Ancestors.

Can you name a couple of places you have been to in Europe that you found absolutely smashing? And why?
Honestly, everywhere we’ve been has been pretty awesome. The people coming out to shows in Europe are such true music heads. It’s really a beautiful thing to connect with and it’s an honor to be able to play for people like that.

One final touring question: how much of a tax is it on your regular lives to do a tour like this? I mean, in regards to things such as your families or jobs.
It’s tough, but I think it will be worth it. Touring is expensive. I for one am definitely concerned about how I’m going to pay my rent while we’re gone. But at least none of us have kids.

Thank you so much for answering the questions in this interview. If you want to tell our readers anything that you haven't done already, please feel free to do so!
Thank you very much for taking the time to interview us! And thank you even more to anyone who actually takes the time to read all of this!

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