Hey guys, last time we did an interview was when you just released your second full-length ‘Ecdysis’. In the meantime some things have changed and I’d like to talk about that now ‘Idol’, which is your fourth album, is out. Let’s start with the label switch. Can you tell a bit more about the transfer from Dark Descent Records to Season Of Mist?
Jamie: We spent a long time trying to decide if we should switch labels or not, and got advice from a number of different people. In the end, we wanted to try something different since we spent so much time on Dark Descent and were interested in potentially getting our music out to some new people. Season Of Mist of course has a large presence in Europe, and the label seemed like it would be a good fit for us. Additionally, we know a number of Season Of Mist employees and their US office is based in Philadelphia where three of us live. We still love Dark Descent and keep in touch with Matt Calvert, and I’m sure this isn’t the end of our working relationship together.
Another change is the addition of a bass-player. Can you tell a bit more about the new guy Alex Kulick? Where did you find him? And is he related to Bob and Bruce?
Jamie: Matt met Alex at a cafe in Philadelphia right around the time that we were looking to add bass to our live sound. Alex was primarily a guitar player but had recently started playing bass in a band called Mob Terror, and we knew that he was raised on metal and played a lot in the Philadelphia free jazz and improvised music scene. Steve from Crypt Sermon and Daeva filled in on bass for a few shows in early 2016, but he was unable to make much of a time commitment, so we asked Alex to try. To make a long story short, he fit in very well musically and brings new musical perspectives to our sound, and he has been with us ever since. I don’t think he is related to Bob and Bruce, but who knows for sure...
When you listen to the music you have progressed again. I think Alex has a bit of a jazz background and you can definitely hear that he’s a solid player. Did he have any influence on the material when it comes to the compositions or did he just have a free hand in his parts when recording them?
Jamie: Alex wrote pretty much all of the bass parts for the new album, and he was definitely involved during the song writing process when we all get together and hash things out. So his influence certainly contributes to our current sound and was a crucial factor in creating the new album, but I think that all four of us tend to challenge ourselves and let our musical development draw us into new areas.
Overall you could say that you simply evolve with every new album. On ‘Anareta’ you already could hear that proggy/jazzy influences, yet you seem to be able to keep it all under control. You’re not drifting away too much from the initial death metal sound. Is that something you keep in the back of your head when you’re working on new material?
Jamie: Yes and no. I think that, despite any progression we have made, our sound still remains rooted within death metal, and I doubt we’d ever get to a point where people stopped classifying us as a death metal band. So I think we unconsciously retain our death metal roots when writing new material, but we are also unafraid to let new musical ideas enter into our world. We are obviously interested in a degree of experimentation, and I’m sure subsequent albums will continue to retain a death metal sound while also covering new ground for the band.
Looking at the way you evolved from the demo to ‘Idol’ you can almost be compared to Death. That band became more progressive over the years. Is that in any way a more or less similar path you want to follow or is it more a way if a natural progression without giving it all too much thought?
Jamie: Well first of all, it is always an honor to be compared to Death, who I think are the best death metal band of all time. I can see why one could make the comparison, but I wouldn’t say we intended to make an analogous progression with our band. We really started out with a love of old-school death metal, thrash, heavy metal, and punk, jamming and melting our separate influences together for fun. As we continued to play together, we developed as musicians and songwriters, but we also expanded our musical interests significantly. And I think when you spend enough time listening to new things, they tend to influence you in one way or another (even if only subconsciously). It is that growth, combined with our disinterest in beating a dead horse, that has led to what I feel is a pretty natural progression for our music. Obviously comparing our demo to ‘Idol’ gives a shocking contrast, but I think if you trace the progression album by album, it makes a lot of sense. (Indeed it does – PB)
You once again recorded at your own Subterranean Watchtower Studios. I assume within the whole recording process you have progressed as well. Does that make the task of recording and mixing your own material easier or harder? I mean becoming more fluent in production skills might mean you want to try out new things in that department, which might make it more difficult.
Damian: While I have absolutely honed my craft over the years and I’m certainly a better audio engineer now than I was a decade ago when we tracked our demo, luckily, we’ve never been held back by the technical aspects of recording or production. With experience, I think we’ve all gotten more comfortable with the recording process, which has made things easier and given us more flexibility. At the same time, however, our songs have increased in complexity over time, which introduces new challenges--not only as a musician, but also as an engineer. Each album has gotten more and more layered (additional leads, vocal lines, contrapuntal harmonies, etc.), which makes my job of ensuring everything is audible, balanced, and “just right” more difficult, but it is an enjoyable challenge. More generally, achieving the clear, yet menacing and old-school production value we’re known for at this point does come quicker for me than it used to.
You’re right that there’s often a drive to try new things as you gain experience and confidence, and I’ve always been game to experiment with the sound of our albums or with specific inclusions. For example, on ‘The Chills’, we added choirs and synths for the first time. On ‘Ecdysis’, I decided to go for a more natural drum sound, and then on ‘Anareta’, we went with an entirely different guitar tone from previous releases. I also added piano for the first time. For ‘Idol’, I used a completely new technique for recording the drum overheads (cymbals), which was a bit nerve-wracking at the time, but it paid off in the end. We also explored more sound effects and atmospheric elements than before. In general, we know the sound we’re going for, and we know what works for getting there, so we’re able to avoid the temptation of straying too far from that path. That said, keeping an open mind and exploring options is the key to discovering something new and interesting that sounds cool. Ultimately, I’m always trying to improve our sound and outperform my previous work, which does add pressure, but I think it’s worth it.
It seems the lyrical content of ‘Idol’ is pretty interesting too. Not having been able to read the lyrics I was wondering if you could give some insight in the topics used?
Matt: The unifying motif of the lyrics on ‘Idol’ is the interrogation of self and the spaces we occupy in the world. It asks, to whom do we relinquish our power and agency? In what ways do we create oppressive concepts of self that poison our thinking? And, more tangibly, what idols have we propped up in our political and spiritual lives in order to escape the responsibility of action, or to gain a sense of safety and freedom? The album explores the sense of powerlessness we feel in the face of personal and international crises and is both a purging of those emotions as well as a cry of defiance against them. Each song on the album explores a different topic connecting to the overall theme of the record and navigates the often precarious psychological landscapes born from these struggles.
What is the relation to the art on the album to the lyrics and can you tell a bit more about the way the art came together?
Jamie: Like our last few albums, the cover art was created by Brian Smith - his art has become a significant component of our image, so we definitely wanted to continue working with him. This time around, we also have a back cover and interior painting from him to make a more complete visual package. These paintings immediately grabbed our attention and felt very fitting when paired with the music and lyrics, so it was a pretty easy decision for us to choose them. The theme of ‘Idol’ certainly permeates all the album’s lyrics, and in my mind the cover art is a visual manifestation of the idol in all its grotesque glory.
Even though you can’t be considered as a touring band you do play shows here and there. For us Europeans and especially the Dutch it is great news you’ll be performing at the Graveland Festival in May 2019. This will be your first shows ever on our side of the pond. How do you feel about that? Any expectations? Have you ever considered doing a longer tour?
Jamie: We have been waiting for an opportunity to play in Europe for a number of years now, so we are very excited. That is our only scheduled European appearance at the moment, but I suspect more will follow. We don’t really know what to expect from European shows, but we always hear from other bands that playing in Europe is a great experience and that European fans really appreciate seeing you play. We have talked about doing a longer European tour but nothing is set in stone yet. It depends on work schedules, but I’m sure we’ll get one figured out in the near future.
Okay, I guess that is all from me. Anything else you’d like to share?
Thanks for the interview and hope to see you across the pond!