Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Subetroth Interview

Like I mentioned in my review of "Agnozia" (which you can view right here) Subetroth defy any sort of categorization. They're definitely heavy as fuck and seem to be somewhat grounded in Stoner/Sludge/Doom, but from there they kinda just do whatever they want. Subetroth create a sound that's original and unique for a sub-genre of metal that sees lots of imitators and duplicators, and I wanted to pick their brains to figure out how these Avant Sludge Fiends do what they do.

Super Dank Metal Jams: So how did you guys form?
Scott- It started with me and former member, Justin Cook (Ravena, Botulist), while we were writing material for Ravena, which is a post-rock/post-metal group of sorts. We both realized we had more of a metal background with each other and decided to try and make something a little heavier. So, I hit up Frank, whom I’ve known since we were in high school, and had a tech-metal band with some years later.
Frank- Yeah, he hit me up and said he was starting a Doom metal project, and I was like “What the hell is doom metal?” He said he thought I would be good at it, and I was looking for a reason to get back into playing again after our 10-year hiatus from playing together. Scott told me to come through and meet and Justin and see how the chemistry worked. So, they taught me their first song, which was ‘Okker’s Shanty’, and we all clicked. Then I just started writing riffs.

SDMJ: Who are your biggest influences and inspires you?
Frank- Me and Scott listened to a lot of shit like Cephalic Carnage, Candiria, Converge, Nasum, and Soilent Green when we were in high school.
Scott- I think we both agree Cephalic’s ‘Exploiting Dysfunction’ is one of the greatest metal albums ever made. It was flawless in its delivery and dynamic presence.
Frank- Hell yeah, and bands like Mars Volta and At The Drive-in, I like that kind of shit.
Scott- I’d have to say that Soilent Green was probably the biggest contributing factor to my particular writing style. Cephalic Carnage just gave me the balls to be unafraid to try weird and obscure shit that no one else was doing. I think we’re both inspired by groups who didn’t fit into any particular genre or scene. At that time (late 90’s, early 00’s), you still had to sift through CDs at the local music store and read hard copy magazines to get a glimpse of what was going on in metal. There was no way to listen to any of these groups before buying the actual physical album back then. Needless to say, most albums were one and done. But the few gems we found or came across totally shaped how we viewed metal from there on out.

SDMJ: What is your songwriting process?
Scott- Dropbox.
Frank- I would be at home, find some time to write some riffs, and record them on the phone and send them to our Dropbox folder where Scott would construct some the tracks based on what we would send.
Scott- Frank has like 70 riffs currently still sitting in our ‘Riff Bank’ folder.
Frank- I have some more.
Scott- As far as what we try and accomplish with our particular sound, we wanted to find a way to make music that IS agonizing. Not just sounds like it, not just lyrics that convey the message, it needed to be painful. For ‘Native Alien’, we were bullshitting around about what the sound would be like, and Justin mentioned that he had a fretless 7-string he had used for some experimental black-metal stuff he was working on. We thought it would be cool to have some elements like that in our sound, but then he wrote the last riff of ‘Res Judicata’, and me and Frank were like “Fuck.”
Frank- Yeah, we can’t just have that one part be fretless, we couldn’t even play it on our fretted guitars. We made the commitment, right then, with that riff, that we HAD to be a fretless band. So, then we went back, and essentially “defretted” all of our material and gave it more of a sleazy sound that comprised Native Alien into what it is.
Scott- We went from doing something we thought might just fit in with all the other doom/sludge, to doing something nobody is doing, which is committing an entire metal band/sound to fretless instruments.

SDMJ: How did you write for Agnozia?
Scott- After ‘Native Alien’ dropped, we realized we weren’t doing the fretless thing enough, mostly because we had deconstructed fretted riffs into fretless ones. Not only that, it seems like even if we did, we still weren’t blurring enough lines to step out of the flock. So, I figured we should do something more experimental that probably won’t be acceptable for most doom/sludge followers, who are into some version of the Sabbath-worship sound. I realized quickly that, to me, the heaviest genre of music in the world was based on some sort of 70’s detuned vibe, and I’m not really into that at all, and honestly disagree. Frank and I came from the dirtier side of the underground, and we learned that we actually fit more into the “Sludge” category than doom. But we were really into what bands like Bongripper and Thou were doing, so we didn’t know that we had to make a hard stance on where our band was going. So, for the second release, we had to get weird. We had to try things that let it be known that we weren’t gonna just spit out the same record over and over. Back when were actually still writing and recording for ‘Native Alien’, I had shown Frank a song of a local Folk artist (Josh Davenport) and was telling him how cool I thought it would be to eventually cover his song ‘Preacher, Drunken Killer’, but it was just an idea and nothing came of it at the time. So, some time had passed after NA released, and I watched ‘Black Snake Moan’ and thought, “Holy shit, we should totally pay tribute to the sound that influenced THE sound.” Black Sabbath was heavily influenced by the blues, and my favorite style was Delta Blues. Just one guy, with a guitar and a slide. After the movie ended, I went into my studio and wrote the intro to ‘Rubber Band Moan’ with no intention of making it heavy, I was just inspired in that moment. What the song turned into was bringing the influence of what heavy music is to us in full circle, making sure to understand that we had to do something different than everyone else to pay REAL tribute to those who came before us. So RBM was actually written first, and we had the idea of covering Josh’s PDK, and we thought we should just do an experimental EP that reflects on the significance of American musical heritage.

SDMJ: What has compelled you to combine Sludge/Doom and Avant Garde music?
Scott- Well Avant-Garde in of itself is void of description. We like heavy music…
Frank- And what heavy is to us. We are the only all fretless band that we know of that is doing what we’re doing, and being fretless changes the way you write things. Riffs can’t just be power chords and 5ths, we actually have to compose who will be playing what note so as to not create such a heavy out-of-tune warble that can be substantial for a low as we tune and being fretless. I mean, our guitars are tuned like basses (E1), and the bass is tuned down to E0. That’s 20.6 Hz and up that we have to ensure precision playing.
Scott- Exactly. So it sounds like what we’re doing is really simple, and it is as far as understanding the building of the riffs, but we had to practice a lot in order to get the timing of our slides right, and even just exact hand placement was a learning curve. We had to come up with new vernacular that we had never used before in other bands when describing where a particular slide would start and end, and how fast it should be. Like “Ok, so start at the 3 fret, and slide up to 6 ½…” or “roll your finger forward/back a little more on this part” and shit like that.
Frank- So when we decided on the fretless thing, the idea was exciting for what we could come up with. In the creative process, it just opens up possibilities and makes you step outside the norm, or changing what’s been done. We went back and did what we called “defretting” all of our material, like taking out chunky linear progressions and turning them into slides to give a much more uneasy feeling…
Scott-Which was heavier to us than anything we have experienced. The music was uncomfortable, and yet fun and sometimes playful.
Frank- And made us giggle.
Scott- Yeah, we knew that when we started acting like little school girls over a particular riff, we were going in the right direction.

SDMJ: Where did the idea of adding instruments such as the banjo into a doom song come from? Scott- I remember one of Zakk Wylde’s old albums, Pride and Glory. The opener of that album had a banjo that introduced the band who then came in and played the same riff. I thought that was so cool back then when it came out and apparently, it never left my mind when we finally decided the theme of ‘Agnozia’. The guy who played for us, Chandler Pratt (Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, The Little Fuller Band), is actually a fucking monster on guitar, but also plays a savage mandolin and pretty much whatever else he wants. He and I were in our first band together as kids, and it only made sense to me to have him come in on the project. I gave him no direction, except for “play banjo here”. He went with some sort of a Celtic highlands/Middle Eastern vibe on it that still managed to keep the integrity of American history. There’s no way that song would even be on the album if he hadn’t done what he did, it’s the catchiest part of the album for us.

SDMJ: I saw in the bandcamp tag for Agnozia that you had put concept album in there. What are the concepts, themes, and ideas explored on this album?
Scott- There was no continuous theme for the album from song to song, but the album as a whole is a tribute to American folk and blues music. We tried to incorporate sounds from the world of old (old for our country anyway), and sort of honor the contributions that came to shape most major genres of music in the world. And honestly, it was just a fun concept that was easy for us to entertain. So each song has its own story that stands by itself from the album, but I tried to write the lyrics to where they had purpose and meaning to me, but are vague enough for the listeners to interpret a meaning for themselves. PDK is all of Josh's original lyrics, barring the one spot/bridge where we added our own riffs to the song, and I tried to write in a way that respected his song while saying something that I would yell in a SUBETROTH song. There is no set way we come up with arrangements other than conceptualizing an idea and trying to figure out a way to sonically portray that idea. We would run all sorts of ideas through the ringer. Sometimes shit would work the first try, while other riffs/ideas/deliveries never made it to the album. We would just experiment by literally cutting and pasting demo riffs in Logic Pro, add a generic beat for tempo, and listen, listen, listen. I think the benefit of being a studio band is that we spend WAY more time listening to ourselves than we we do actually playing our instruments, which is sort of unique from the way a traditional band operates. We have no idea how our material works on a crowd, so it hasn't shaped our understanding of what we're supposed to be doing. We just tinker with everything until it's something we like to listen to, not to play or perform. For Agnozia, it was American folk and blues. For the next one, we'll try and ruin some other genre (or genres) of music. Not everyone will dig what we do, but blurring genre lines is the only way new shit gets created, and we want to make stuff people haven't heard before. Otherwise, we're just doing a slight variation of what's been done over and over in doom and sludge. Doing that is very uninteresting to us.
Frank- For ‘Ungrown Tug’, Scott came with a really cool intro riff with the purpose of having a banjo on it. By this time, we had PDK and RBM conceptually written, but we wanted the party-like opener for the EP. Some of these riffs were in our Riff Bank, and we had a rough idea on which riffs we were going to use, even though some of them were written on fretted guitars. Then Scott mangled the shit out of them and defretted them…
Scott- “Let’s slow this riff to ¼ speed…”
Frank- Jesus! He added a whole sort of swag to these riffs and made them new. Ungrown Tug was the last song we wrote out of the 3, and after hearing it in it’s almost finished state, I was like “We need a fuckin’ harmonica in here or something.” So like with the blast beat section in Ungrown Tug, it’s the same riff as what’s being played under the harmonica solo, but Scott did what he does, arranged it, and then I heard what I had originally wrote in a new way, hence the need for a harmonica. That with the banjo only made sense. The song had a very fun-vibe to it, and having Nathan come in was exactly what made the song complete.
Scott- All the songs needed that little bit of out-of-genre flair. For PDK, the song in its raw format is the song of a broken, but good man. The progressions in the original are traditional, diatonic minor in delivery, and it was that along with his lyrics that made me want to cover the song. I wanted to capture a fractured mind, but also have it be beautiful in a bitter-sweet sort of way. So for the intro, we took his original recording, and added some horror-like concepts to it so as to give the feeling of the whole despair thing or whatever. When the band kicks in, we wanted a big theatrical presence to counter the intro, and then we brought Reese Rose in to give it that haunting, beautiful quality…. Frank- Which was the final touch to a song that was missing something until she came in. Even though we worked on the delivery a lot, the progression was still Josh. So we decided to put the two riffs that are obviously outside of the original song in, the first one from me, the second one from Scott.
Scott- Yeah Frank’s riff had that, “Ok, back to SUBETROTH” feel to it that let stood on its own, and allowed for a break to bring the band back in, in a familiar way. The second riff goes back to us needing to show the fretlessness of the band, and not some gimmick that just makes it harder for us to play shit people with fretted guitars can do. I tried to replicate some sort of hybrid speaking-in-tongues thing with someone who suffers from mental illness that solely pays tribute to the title of the song, and Josh himself.
Frank- And RBM is just a SUBETROTH song, with a cool intro.
Scott- Done.

SDMJ: What do you think is the best way for you to execute writing for a concept album, and how would that change for the future?

Scott- Well like Frank said, it goes back to being fretless. We almost have no option but to write differently when it comes to our brand of music, whatever that is. Being unpredictable keeps expectations of us low, and allows us to experiment with whatever we want since we’re still a new band with little to no presence in the scene because we are a studio band. I mean, now, it’s just me and Frank. Just us doing whatever the fuck we want with no social or fan obligations. We got a little buzz from Agnozia, but it’s still nothing compared to what bands that actually tour get. People stumble across us, and for that, we don’t have to take what we do too seriously. So we don’t.
Frank- We just get after it, make sure we have enough material to work with, and not be scared to be experimental or conceptual, no matter how silly the idea might be. Just fuckin’ execute.

SDMJ: How do you stay creative?
Scott- Don’t listen to metal.
Frank- Yeah I gotta step away from metal pretty often. Gotta go back to the stuff that makes you feel good, and then come back with the state of mind that you’re gonna come back with some heavy ass shit. I find that I don’t like a lot of stuff these days, not much metal other than the old stuff I grew up with. Seems like there’s not enough risk takers in metal, especially in the doom/sludge genre, and it’s kind of irritating.

SDMJ: What are you currently listening to, and what should we check out for the blog? Frank- Hall & Oates, Slightly Stoopid, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, 311, The Cars, Minus The Bear, Phil Collins, Classic Rock, 80’s shit, and SUBETROTH. I don’t know, just pretty much whatever is good. Scott- I found myself caught up in the recent trap/twerking/dub phenomenon. I love that shit, Buku, Knife Party, Toadface, Excision, and Celldweller. I also love Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko, those dudes rap like Meshuggah does polyrhythms. I know none of what Frank and I are listening to helps the people who listen to heavy music or are reading this probably, but if had to recommend something, I got one, Author & Punisher. I saw that dude open up for Weedeater and it was one of the heaviest things I’ve ever heard in my entire life. That dude fuckin’ gets it. -Samir

No comments:

Post a Comment