I must admit, I was late to the party on Brown Jenkins; I didn’t hear them until the inimitable Nathan T. Birk sent me a copy of Death Obsession while he was doing PR work for the once prominent black metal label Moribund Cult. I fell instantly in love with the band’s spellbinding attack, which blended elements of black metal, doom and gothic rock with an appropriately Lovecraftian sense of dread and crumbling sanity. I gave the album a glowing review for the now-defunct Sonic Frontiers(dot)net and subsequently came into contact with band mastermind Umesh Amtey. That correspondence blossomed into a friendship that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying for several years now; although Amtey and I have never met in person, I consider him a close comrade and look forward to the day when we can raise our glasses together in the same room.
As a result of our friendship, I’ve had the distinct privilege of watching the next phase of Amtey’s musical journey come into being. The Ash Eaters shares some traits with Brown Jenkins, but is an all together different beast. The guitar-work is more complex, the arrangements are more frantic, attacking the listener from every direction, while at the same time remaining catchy and memorable; Amtey has drawn from a wide range of influences and pushed them forward in every way imaginable.
I’ve been waiting for my chance to interview Mr. Amtey, so when he finally gave Ruining You, the debut Ash Eaters full length, to the world after a string of shorter releases, I knew the time had finally come. While I’ve had many private conversations with him regarding his musical history, motivations, influences, etc, I wanted to afford my readers the same opportunity to learn more about this truly unique individual and the excellent music he’s been releasing over the past several years. I contacted Mr. Amtey via e-mail for the following interrogation.
THKD: How does your approach/mindset towards The Ash Eaters differ from that of your previous projects? Was there a definitive moment or event where Brown Jenkins ended and The Ash Eaters began? When did you realize that you’d taken Brown Jenkins as far as you could and it was time to start down a new path?
UA: These are difficult questions for me…to be honest, in the space of my own life, it mostly has to do with time…the bands I’ve been involved with or have written music for existed for really specific reasons…even if I only really knew that later. Brown Jenkins was an Austin, TX phenomenon, it came into being first as kind of an experiment, going back to my roots as a lover of Lovecraft’s fiction and wanting to combine that with a new/different kind of doom metal, something that was constantly collapsing and expanding, that wasn’t so riff-based and immediate. But I honestly didn’t have the patience, at the time, for writing stuff like that. So it stayed as something atmospheric and bizarre, something alien, but it grew into a much more frantic and frenzied/anxious form of music almost immediately. It was then that I realized that it was directly mirroring my own life, it was coming out of my own reality day to day…the riffs I would write, the little song segments I would come up with when just experimenting with a cheap recorder and guitar, it was an echo of what I was experiencing at the time. Then I grew really interested and focused, I grew attached to it, I sought to capture the essence of that effect/characteristic and really push it. Life and “art”, reflecting each other constantly, living for each other, creating each other. Jenkins WAS always supposed to be a short-lived thing, it was never meant to live that long…it was going to dig deep into a particular form of darkness/psychosis, live there for a while, record what it could and then leave. I think it captured something of that time…of course not all, but I can still hear echoes of it when I go back and listen to the music, especially the last album.
So…yes, I can pinpoint an exact time when Jenkins totally ended: the moment I left Austin for North Carolina in 2009, when all of the inspiration (both positive and terribly negative) from that city, from my life there, came to an end. I know I could have gone deeper/darker than “Death Obsession” but where would it have ended? There wasn’t any “truth” left to find in that darkness. “Death Obsession” was the end of a lot of things for me…the end of a certain mindset, of a way of life, of a relationship I had with a woman, of my time in a city, of the friendships I had built, just a totally black, murderous, absolutely despairing end of everything…and yes, contrary to contemporary ironic re-evaluations of such cliches…catharsis and madness are still catharsis and madness. They are still very real and very meaningful.
The song “The Ash Eaters” on the second Jenkins CD was about…the idea of there being people/entities beyond time/outside of time that allowed everything to continue as normal. Like the old Twilight Zone idea: every moment of time is constructed and comes into being only because there is an entire apparatus beyond/outside of it that maintains things, that cleans things up…so the “Ash Eaters” are the people who absorb everything, all negativity (no matter how powerful, perverse or petty) and broadcast positivity instead. The people who clean up, in other words…who make everything possible. They eat the trash/biomass/effluvia of the world in order to maintain things, to keep existence alive. I saw this as the real responsibility, the real/actual “adult” world, the people who stay firm and maintain, they simply absorb and smile…it’s that cruel/wicked smile that I loved and that I wanted my new music to be based around. It’s a smile that’s completely ambiguous, one never knows what it means when one encounters it, but for me it’s very inspirational…at certain times it can mean death/screaming and rape and ruin, at another time it can mean bright yellow flowers/sunshine and birth and white teeth all around…whatever keeps the machine rolling, going…that’s what I wanted this new band to be…anything and everything, open to everything…no rules, no expectations, absolute freedom…so to answer your question: no more limits, no fears, no expectations…the goal is endless growth knowing that it will always be “protected” beneath the aegis of an overarching existence that has already seen everything anyway. So…yeah, the “protection” is also understood as a lie, but maybe a necessary one for a certain time/state of mind.
I want this new band to be completely open-ended but I know it is…still me playing guitar, it’s still me writing the music, it’s going to be similar to things in the past…but I want to break free from that. I hope I can.
THKD: It’s interesting to me that you’re talking about Brown Jenkins being an exploration of a specific darkness/psychosis, and then The Ash Eaters being these forces for positivity in the world, total opposite ends of the spectrum. As an “outsider” following your musical evolution from Jenkins to The Ash Eaters, I can really see that metamorphosis being played out; for me it’s like Angel Eyes was you hitting the deepest, darkest reaches of that exploration and then Death Obsession was kind of you clawing your way out of that darkness towards the light or what would become The Ash Eaters. You can even see it in how the visual aesthetic changes from the dark covers of Dagonite and Angel Eyes where you’re kind of letting the darkness swallow you up, to the lighter cover of Death Obsession, to the very minimal white covers for The Ash Eaters material. Obviously you’ve had this concept of The Ash Eaters with you for quite some time… Angel Eyes was released in 2008. When you were writing that particular song, did you know at the time that it would evolve into a whole other band? Did you know you were sowing the seeds for a new musical path?
UA: Honestly, no…when I was writing the material for “Angel Eyes” I was completely lost in this bizarre mindscape/dimension/lifestyle that was extremely claustrophobic. I was living in a really nice, totally yuppie apartment with my ex-girlfriend at the time…but we were in the south of Austin, kind of on the fringe of the city, and it took me a while to travel to work or to downtown, I would ride the bus (Austin has great public transportation, btw), I would walk around at night a lot…through the woods there, through the trees and sand pathways and right by the park we lived by, night after night, and I felt horribly alone, isolated, yet still controlled…and I was drinking a lot, of course, but that doesn’t have much to do with anything (I hope). We lived in this apartment that was great, perfect, it had everything one would ever need, it was supposed to be the summit of a certain lifestyle, I could feel that all around me. “You’re here, you achieved this, you should be proud, blah blah..” No. It was still all the same. I used to lie awake at night, in these modern apartments you can hear everything through the walls because they’re built so cheaply…and I would hear my downstairs neighbors beating their son/abusing him and him crying out for help (we called the police several times and eventually they moved out), I would hear the upstairs people fighting and dragging their furniture back and forth (honestly, it sounded like they were building coffins and moving them around all night long), I would hear their daughter crying and whimpering, there were the meth head neighbors who moved to that place from even farther out fucking everything up in their lives over and over, fighting and screaming, just listening to them claw and tear at each other, it was suffocating. One always…tells oneself that “this isn’t humanity, this is something else” but I often think that’s such a horribly fake-aristocratic method of willing/believing…no, these were just “normal” people, living their lives…but their lives were absolute shit, of course. They’re slaves, so…go to a job you hate, work for people you hate, feel confused all the time, have nothing in your life to satisfy you/offer you escape outside of drugs, find solace in another human’s body heat, really…I mean, even snakes like warm rocks. You eat shit food, you have a shit relationship where you rut like demented pigs, you go to sleep in sweat-stained reeking sheets like animals, you spend a quarter of your time in jail where you’re further abused by sadists who think some imaginary “law” enables them to be sociopaths, what is left? Alcohol and sleep. Something harder if you can afford it. Suicide if you can summon the courage…or the courage of a suitable despair, enough courage to overcome one’s programmed narcissism!
I had this friend at the time…this cute redhead named Mariah who was very sensitive to color and she would notice changes in my mood due to things I would say, pictures I would post on the internet, and she noticed (like you alluded to in your question) that “things have changed” because of things I had posted or whatever…no, all back to black and white.
I feel most comfortable in black and white and gray. People have told me it’s a “control” thing. That’s an easy/pop-psychology/whatever answer…I don’t think it’s true. What about the people who simply prefer that world because of the world they’ve been given to understand because of their own biology? Are we color blind or are we real?
But no…so I would walk around at night and listen to good music, Beethoven or Penderecki or early black metal or whatever and I would think of giant earth-crushing riffs that would stomp and bleed people like this, that would crush them and cause them to hang themselves, that would convince them that suicide WAS the real way out, the only answer, and I would probably be really drunk on cheap vodka or whatever (my choice drink at the time) and I would record a few of them and save them for later…and over time it built up and became that album. But that album is so simplistic to me…I know many people really love it (my girlfriend right now included) but I’ve never understood that. To me it’s just a record of that time, a really dark, horrible, depressing time in my life. I think people mostly like the vocals? That album was recorded on a computer I bought for $50, used, with a pirated version of Cubase I got from some torrent and the vocals were recorded on a Shure SM58 (yes!) duct-taped to a lamp stand I unscrewed the head off of with some hippie scarf stretched on a clothes hanger for a “pop screen.” So when people complain about “not having the money to record” – whatever? Jesus. DIY, right? Guitars were from a pawn shop shit Warlock through a Marshall practice amp.
But no…at the time I had no idea it all of this was going to blossom into what it is now. I just wanted to write/record music, get it out there. I liked playing guitar, I liked the idea of having records, I liked the idea of being a “musician” (I spent most of my time working, reading or lifting weights, being a musician seemed cool), I’m glad that people like/liked it. I’ve gone from there. I’m still following that path, like you said…I think it really is just detailing the inner world/nuances/whatever of my mental illness. Cool that people can follow along, but…my real satisfaction is in the music itself. That’s where my solace comes from. I feel totally at home and at peace in the middle of it, I listen to it, in the middle of this web I’ve created, totally being honest/solipsistic/narcissistic and there I am, at peace…
That, for me, is what it’s all about, creating that world where I can live and breathe easily and thrown out ideas come back to me in the right forms, just feeling good and at peace, the outer (musical) world, what I’m hearing reflecting the inner world…mirrors upon mirrors. It’s horribly selfish. But I’m very, very glad that other people can enjoy it…I think of them as parts of my tribe, I guess? I think we’re all searching for that tribe. “Death Obsession”…well, that was a whole new world for me, so many things had changed…
THKD: You were able to record something great, that people like and identify with (not to mention was released on a pretty prominent black metal label at the time) using a $50 computer and a mic taped to lamp stand, yet every independent band out there these days seems to think they to need to panhandle, via Kickstarter or whatever, in order to get their album funded. Has the DIY ethic been forgotten? It seems odd to me that people still think you need to spend thousands in a professional studio to make a cool sounding record. Also, how has your recording/equipment setup evolved over time? What types of guitars are you favoring these days for writing and recording? What can you tell us about writing/recording the Ash Eaters material (without giving away all of your secrets, of course;)?
UA: I don’t know, maybe the DIY ethic HAS been forgotten, or maybe it’s weird/unfamiliar to people who only came up through metal. When I was a kid I listened/was involved with hardcore, punk, mainstream metal, underground metal, noise, the local noise scene, etc. so it always made sense to me: if you want to record/make something, just do it. Honestly, it just comes down to goals and/or priorities. So many of these “metal” bands have some strange goals in mind: get good at guitar, make a recording, get signed, get validated, feel responsible and important, get some moist, make money, blah blah. It’s not about that. It never really was. There are the bands out there who are really good, who write “good” songs, who make money, etc. with it, etc. but we’re talking about 1% of the people who make music. The other 99% = make music because they love it, make music because they love it and seek recognition/validation/importance or make music because they’re trying to get something and are simply not getting it. I don’t write music for money…so according to the old Samuel Johnson quip “suspecting people not writing for money”, I’m not to be trusted. *grin*
I have no idea why most of these people write music these days. If it’s not progressing, if it’s not moving music forward, if it’s not personal and reflects one’s inner world, if it doesn’t say something true/real or “authentic”, if it doesn’t come from pain and loss…what’s the point? If it doesn’t move music forward, even personally for the individual: does that mean music has reached some absolute point where no more progression is available/necessary? I don’t believe that. Music is the expression of the individual, how that individual relates to all of what has come before, how that individual relates/reflects his/her own culture, etc. It’s timeless and yet always changing, it relates constantly back to a concept of “human nature” that might not even actually exist. So, the obvious other side of that: if someone releases music that’s completely cliched and designed to appeal to this or that trend, this or that place/time, what does that say about them?
In terms of recording, it’s really easy these days: most metal bands can get away with a cheap computer, a good DAW (Reaper is free, I use it and love it), a guitar input, a mic. Don’t have a drummer? Use MIDI software and be creative. WTF? Nothing is stopping anyone. It’s so easy these days to be creative and record, it’s hilarious. If you’re resourceful you’ll find a way. The people who spend hundreds/thousands of dollars on this stuff are either idiots/ignorant or lazy and they’re giving money to people who are also idiots and/or lazy. A great sounding recording is easy. Use your ears? I often think that people love spending money on recordings because they somehow think that gives them prestige or something? “Hey, we went ‘into the studio’ and spend hundreds of dollars on some bullshit alcoholic fucking up everything left and right and who second-guessed every decision we made…’ – what? Who is that supposed to impress? Idiots are easy to stun…just wave something shiny in front of their face.
My recording set up hasn’t changed much…I still use anything I can. Reaper for the DAW, a Line 6 UX-1 and Pod Farm for the guitar sound, one mic for vocals, drums or whatever percussion/chorals I add in, whatever shit bass is there for anyone to play, etc. It’s not expensive. Again I have to stress: it all comes down to one’s ears, what one hears, what one wants to hear? My main guitar for almost everything is a cheap Ibanez RG, nothing fancy.
But in terms of writing music…I do it the same way now as I always have. I practice every day (fundamentals and then “free practice” or something new I’m trying to learn)…or try to, then when my fingers are all warmed up (or maybe later, if I run out of time) I simply start writing music. Either I’ll have something in mind, like a theme or idea from the day before or earlier in the day, or I’ll just be experimenting with chords, harmonies, little melodies that come to me, etc. I record all of those ideas, label them with a date + an impression of what they mean, where they’ll fit in a song, etc. and when I start building up a significant amount I’ll work them into structures that have already been determined. It’s like putting puzzles together…but of course when the music starts fitting together it’ll change/warp the other ideas in the song (what else is needed) or the architecture of the song itself. It’s a lot of fun but it can be maddening towards the end, when everything is coalescing. Sometimes the entire thing stands or collapses on a 2 second transition riff/segment that I won’t be able to create for weeks…and then one day I’ll wake up with it in my head.
THKD: You’ve said you were involved in various aspects of the scene as a kid; were there any bands/artists in particular either locally or regionally while you were growing up in Austin? What hand did those bands having shaping your approach to music? Also, you’ve touched on people getting into music for the wrong reasons; who are some bands that you feel are doing it for the right reasons, who’ve held on to their integrity and earned your respect?
UA: I grew up in Houston, actually. I only moved to Austin when I was 18 to go to college. But…Houston back then had a really strong metal scene, supported in part by a radio show that Wes Weaver (Blaspherian) was doing on KPFT, a public station. It was called “Sweet Nightmares” – that was where I first heard Darkthrone’s 2nd LP, before it was even released. They played “In The Shadow of the Horns” and he said, “They’re not talking about ‘Hook ’em Horns’ you know” – referring to the University of Texas Longhorns. *grin* There were great bands: Dark Reign, Malignant Terror, Dead Horse, down south was Devastation in Corpus, there were bands from all over who played out or came through, we had a club in Houston called The Axiom that welcomed everyone. I saw so many great groups there: Gammacide (so many times, just an unrelenting thrash assault), Deicide, Morbid Angel (touring for Altars), Sadus, Nuclear Death, Hexx, Sepultura, Obituary, Morbid Scream, Dresden 45, DRI, Pestilence, Death, Carcass, Entombed, Cathedral, Napalm Death, ugh…on and on. It was great. But as much as I loved the metal scene in those days…and hardcore and punk, it was the noise scene I was really interested in…and what was called “experimental music” back then. There were artist galleries set up in downtown Houston – huge, airy spaces – squats, people living on the edge of existence, there would be shows, bands would come from all over the world, it seems like I was exposed to most of the best experimental music at the time. I was lucky, I guess? It was a great time. There were great record stores, lots of cool musicians to talk to, everything seemed so vital and alive, there was a shared purpose of something being said, something being done, there was a world to explore and conquer. It might have just been the fact that I was young. I don’t know.
In terms of what those bands, what I heard at that time…how they shaped the way I see music now, how to produce music, it’s 100%. We’re talking: Nurse With Wound, Whitehouse, Death in June, Throbbing Gristle…etc. Not so much metal…metal was always limited in terms of progression, audience, possibilities of expression, etc. I loved metal but I always felt there was so much more. Noise/experimental music was a lot more exciting…the most influential metal bands for me: Morbid Angel, Autopsy, Voivod, Metallica, Godflesh, Burzum, Darkthrone…
I should probably mention that the two bands from Houston that always inspired me the most were the Pain Teens and Esoterica Landscapes 7. The romance and atmosphere of urban decay, enormous lightless spaces, abandoned highways at night, concrete and steel…
There aren’t many bands left in metal now that I still feel are into it for the right reasons…even if they are they often produce terrible, substandard music because they seem to feel mediocrity is a bulwark against the threatening possibilities of progression outside nostalgia. But everything else in the world has changed as well…many (maybe most?) no longer feel there’s anything worth fighting for, no worlds left for them to explore, the internet has made every idea or stance a cliche, every “lifestyle” a commodity, reification is 99% complete, the circle has closed, people sneer at mystery or potential…anything outside of their spoonfed, categorized reality. Everything is reduced to variations of cliches. It’s a terrible world to live in, it’s a waking nightmare…I would give anything to have it destroyed once and for all. The lack of isolation and freedom has completely killed artistic potential and the courage of self-determination in the face of silence. All we seem to have left is a lowest common denominator, banal hive mind that claws at and undermines anyone who tries to break free from it.
THKD: Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about the various releases that you’ve put out under the banner of The Ash Eaters. So far you’ve released a demo, two EPs and at last the Ruining You album. How would describe the progression of the project in terms of your recordings? Also, you’ve been quite prolific; does writing this music come easily to you? Do you ever sleep? ;)
UA: I can only hope that the progression of the music mirrors my progression as a person, my identity, my personality, what I’ve learned through life/experience. I don’t think that ever ends…or at least it shouldn’t? One’s art should reflect one’s being, right? But in terms of the guitar writing, etc. – well…I am not a very good guitarist at all, at least in the traditional sense. I have terrible hand/eye coordination, IMO…for example: I’m really bad at video games. I’ve tried, in the past, to practice in the established way, to play what other people play, to understand and approach rock music the way most people agree one must approach it…but it just doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel real. At the same time I can’t be one of these people who just looks at the guitar as a tool for noise, to produce any sound whatsoever. So I’m kind of stuck in between a very traditional way of playing and then something that is completely outside all of that, something that might only make sense to me, I don’t know. “Modern rock guitar” is something that I’ve studied a lot and ultimately rejected…not because I consider it to be silly or misaligned or maladjusted and cliched…but because it doesn’t touch me personally. That entire methodology, that entire history and practice…it really works for some people. They feel comfortable inside of it. I feel suffocated and fake…unbearably so. That world doesn’t exist for me.
In terms of the recordings themselves, the production, etc. I think it’s a cross between learning how to be a better producer/engineer/whatever, motivating myself to actually care about such things and then…slowly gaining the courage, over and over, to just write what I want and not worry about anything else. I sometimes feel like I’ve achieved that, sometimes I don’t.
As far as writing a lot of material: it all naturally comes out of practicing. I’m fairly disciplined with that…and then it’s also time management. I try to sit down every day and write…I don’t wait for “inspiration” or anything like that. I just keep working. I discard a lot of material, I save stuff for later, etc. but for me the most satisfying part of doing music is often the daily ritual of work, slowly but surely building up material, ideas, little sketches, etc. It’s just part of life for me. Sometimes I’ll deliberately try to make it (or let it) reflect what’s happening at that moment in my life, that day, that hour, sometimes I’ll work on an idea I’ve had kicking around for a while. It just depends, I guess, on what mood I’m in. But the hours of concentration, when one is really in that “zone”, working hard, not limited by anything, just bouncing ideas around and feeling the immediate satisfaction of creating/reflecting/changing/expressing…it’s deeply gratifying. I like making all the tiny little decisions that come with writing music. But yeah: this is really easy for me, it’s what I do naturally. Ha! It’s instinctive, I don’t have to force it…music is now much more powerful and satisfying than writing prose ever was. And to answer your last question: no, I don’t sleep that much! There are too many things to do in life!
THKD: As a fan of your vocals on the Brown Jenkins stuff, something I’ve been wanting to talk about is your decision to make The Ash Eaters mostly instrumental. Why the lack of vocals, especially when you’ve gone to the trouble of writing lyrics?
UA: I know…it was a difficult decision for me to make. On one hand…I love vocals, even though they’re extremely difficult for me (for a few reasons), on the other: I’ve been learning, now, over the past few years, how important they are to other people. Believe it or not, because I’m a guitarist and I’ve mostly focused on the guitars in my listening going way, way back…I never really paid much attention to vocals. I can appreciate them, of course…I like when they fit in, etc. but I’m only now beginning to understand how much they mean to most people. It never occurred to me that people would think they’re a central “instrument”, etc.
Vocals are difficult for me because it’s relatively awkward for me to emote through my voice. With my guitar? It’s fine. I can say anything. But when it comes to my voice, with words…I always feel like the entire spectrum of expression within a song’s offering of music is being choked down to a terrible level, a base, mediocre form of communication. It distresses me, it disgusts me. I understand that it can be seen as just another level of musical communication offered to the listeners, it can add or subtract, but for me…when I see that focus on words uttered, on the voice, on speech, on language, I feel trapped. I don’t know what people are really looking for. Easily repeatable lyrics? Life is so much more than that. Life can be reflected, in instances – if only for a moment (I still believe) in guitar music…but in speech, in language? No. So it causes a great deal of anxiety for me.
There’s also the fact that…here, now, where I’m living, in my present life, I never feel comfortable recording vocals. There’s always someone coming in and out, there are people here all the time, I never have the deep solitude I need, the space, the freedom from sad/stupid ears and commentary. With the Jenkins stuff I had an almost ideal situation…I was living in what might as well have been a bunker (at least with the later music), a corner apartment made of brick and stone, nobody to hear me, nobody to comment or complain most of the day, it was very nice. I’m a very shy person and I can’t emote with my vocals if I know there are people near who would hear or say anything…
But I know this will change. I’m hoping it will change very soon!
I suppose I should say that…when it came to Ruining You, for example, I always knew there wasn’t any way vocals could be there. I wrote it that way, it’s ALL about the guitars and drums and how the different layers of each are interacting. That album, those songs, are a conversation between guitars, if you listen closely you can hear them echoing each other, saying things, reacting, going back and forth, reaching conclusions, deciding what is or isn’t right, arguing…going forward, coming back, being indecisive, being bold, etc.
And I should also say…with the Ibn Ghazi EP, it was always supposed to have vocals. All the vocal patterns are written, I recorded a version of it with vocals, on many different levels. I scrapped that version because I wasn’t satisfied with it. Right now I’m working on a new version with vocals so that it can be released “properly.”
When it comes to lyrics…all the lyrics, my words…they of course reflect and add to the music, they’re what the music is “about” in a way, but I’m happy if people just read them while they’re listening to the songs. They were never written to be sung. This is something that goes back to Jenkins. What I want to express with each song is so much more than a normal, trite, cliched, standard song can provide…the lyrics are there, people can read them, the vocals are really just a reminder that there ARE lyrics, I guess?
THKD: I seem to recall you once telling me that a lot of your lyrical content was based on nightmares… is this still the case? Do you find yourself getting out of bed in the middle of the night to jot things down before they’re lost?
UA: That was certainly true with older material…say, with the two Jenkins LPs and then the first few Ash Eaters recordings. Death Obsession was almost all from my nightares, really baroque stuff, classic “wake up choking and clutching at the sheets” type of dreams. I poured a lot of that into the lyrics and music and to tell you the truth I feel like a sadist now because of it. What did listeners do to deserve that? I meant the center picture in the lyric booklet to reflect all of that, it’s a combination of many different images but mostly constructed from pictures of the famous 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that was side-haunted by the deeds of H. H. Holmes. I remember during that time the phrase “dark carnival” was always going through my mind, over and over. Not just in reference to Bradbury…simply the words, what I’ve connected to them over the years. I would walk around at night and think of musical themes in my head (to paraphrase Nietzche: never trust a melody you invent while sitting down) and that idea would return to me again and again: the saddest thing in life is the dark side of the happiest moments, etc. Death and loss and ruin and despair as a little shadow underlining the most joyful images, not a negative or reverse part but the truth of the matter, a shadow that one had to strive to express over and over but never really reach…but in that reaching maybe spit out…something? I don’t know. The dark carnival, the absolute madness at the heart of my life at that point (and so, as I saw it: at the center of ALL life, extrapolating selfishly), at the center of all the people I knew, etc. Just unending despair and cruelty and madness, to the point where the mind gives up and one just whirls around and around, vomiting.
But now? Maybe not so much.
There was a really special time in my life, when I was about 25 years old and I was living alone, it was in my first apartment, this was in Austin, and I used to go out walking every night. I was a total diehard Romantic at the time, extremely lonely, and I’ve always been a daydreamer anyway, but I would walk and dream about things and so many of the images and scenarios/situations (or even just words from internal monologues) from that time have stuck with me. I think they’ll always be with me. They often form the backbone and thrust of my lyrics now. Not in the sense, really, of still being connected with certain people or events, opportunities or real worlds, but just…exploded outward from that, inhabiting now something I felt then and haven’t felt in a long, long time: total possibility, a complete (this was always an illusion, let’s be honest) emotion of discovery, potential, the ability to move between worlds like a spirit, a disembodied ghost and find new worlds, microcosms to be sure, within each new experience, each new day, each new walk and possible adventure. It was, of course, also utterly sexual, it was linked to desire and the libido, but a libido that was never, ever about physical fulfillment and release. I never thought about “release” because that idea = to me, forgetting and degradation, death. I still feel that way. But one must understand: this was in a time before the internet, when I didn’t have a TV, the only people I saw were my neighbors, I was splendidly isolated and all of these things just grew within me. I was forced to experience, firsthand, my real world, what my real situation was…and because I’m an introvert (about as deep a one as a person can get) and my understanding of “reality”, the force of the external, not blunted or ameliorated by masks of interpretation that are passed around now, traded on the open market, was made all that much stronger by a REAL reality, a REAL world, it created things of steel within me that have lasted for…well, for decades. I miss that world, honestly. It can’t be recaptured, it’s gone forever.
As far as jumping out of bed goes…yeah, I’ve done it. I dream of melodies and harmonies too. *grin* Lines of lyrics most often come to me out of the blue, though. I don’t know their source. One posits the unconscious, of course, that’s the cliche, but…as it’s the unconscious it can never be touched. One just looks toward it (or pretends to, even in one’s own mind), it’s futile to consciously try to draw from it, like a well. It’s even more frustrating to try to open it up, of course, or “free” it. I can’t do that in this world, now, without being thrown in a jail cell…
THKD: I know you’ve started working on even more new material… how is that shaping up and where is your inspiration coming from these days?
UA: I’ve been working on new(er) music for a while now, going back to before the Ibn Ghazi EP was released. It was really slow at first…mostly because I didn’t seem to have the time or space to really concentrate and let it flow, but now it’s speeding up and I think I’m firmly in the zone, I’m able to effectively translate, at this point, images or feelings in my mind into music that adequately illustrates them or is evocative. That’s how it always is, though…it takes a little while for the music to crack open and then it simply starts flowing…and yet somehow I still get frustrated at the beginning of the process and think something’s wrong. Ha! But no, I’ve collected a lot of material now…I think in a few more months of writing the new LP will be finished, completed, all put together. Hopefully. The music is there in my head now…and a lot of it has been written down or recorded in terms of sketches, riffs and riffs on riffs, song segments, “interludes”, overlays, exchanges, transitions, etc. I also have most of the song structures laid out…or planned, anyway, in what the form(s) of the songs themselves are supposed to say purely from a structural standpoint, in relation to the music of others and the music I’ve done in the past…and then reflecting ideas from my own experience. You and I have talked about this a little recently…basically the music is more technical/crazier in terms of multiple voices and entry points for one’s ears than ever. Then again there are the parts that are simple, soothing, strong in terms of obvious emotions, etc. I try to balance the two. I’ve been concentrating a lot more on allowing the right space for vocals this time…and I kind of changed my lyric style to reflect that, I guess, making them more narrative instead of abstract and purely expressive. What I continue to work toward is flexibility, variation, songs that build and collapse…trying to get away from the usual all-out assaults on people. *grin* There’s more space in these songs, places to breathe a little easier. It’s necessary, I think, because when that isn’t there, in the most densely packed, claustrophobic segments, the writing is more absurdly chaotic and lightless than ever before. Basically: I’m pushing myself to change, grow past what has come before…sometimes almost in a sadistic/masochistic fashion, out of that stupid comfort zone…it’s difficult to talk about these things without spilling cliches, I apologize.
As far as inspiration goes? It’s almost all from other people’s music. Not metal anymore, well…not really. That’s not inspiring me right now. Mostly a lot of blues music…from the entire history of that colossal “genre”, going back as far as one can go. I was thinking a lot before about…black metal being a certain form of the blues, how if one approaches it that way (using the equation: blues ->;; rock ->;; black metal) it rips things open and allows one some writhing room to inject the personal, the local, one’s own life. So…if I ever was “writing to a genre” before, responding to what other people are doing with black metal (or any kind of metal), I’m not anymore. I’m simply letting that one part of rock music become a side street of my entire approach to playing the guitar…which really draws on everything I’ve ever heard, rock or not. I like that, it feels right. At the same time, I’m in no way trying to blend different genres or forms or anything like that, to me that’s shallow, uninstructive, pathetic. Everything has to come together and then be transformed inside before being spat back out again so that it’s personal and unique…to take a little A, a little B, and then mash them together = just being a human sequencer, a meat computer…and one that’s way too focused on externals, the forms of music instead of its content and emotional impact. So, for example, while I sometimes use overt signs/symbols of the blues in the music I’m writing now…7th chords, slide guitar, variations on cliches, etc. that’s all really a kind of…anchor point or signpost for the listener (and I count myself as one of them, of course, the first one) that’s immediately flooded over, changed, warped…
THKD: Will any of The Ash Eaters material ever see a physical release? Is this at all important to you? Does physical media even matter now that we have access to every album ever via the ‘net?
UA: Yes, I’m sure what has already been recorded will see physical release some day…if some other person doesn’t pick it up I’ll probably eventually do it myself. I’ve seen some interest from a few labels…but most of them are so sketchy/weird about communicating that I never know exactly what’s going to happen. I’d rather just do it myself, to be honest. There’s only one reason to be “signed” to a label these days, as far as I can tell: access to more money to make the final product the best it can possibly be. But if I can ensure that myself…why hand this over to another person? It IS important to, still…I still like/enjoy physical releases and I want that kind of record of an album to always be there…I don’t like this virtual world where anything one releases can cease to exist at any point because someone erased it, or…hard drive failures, sites closing down, etc. It’s odd to me that anyone would want that. Yes, it’s perfect that music can now be sent all over the world instantaneously…but it’s important to also still be firmly rooted in actuality, in reality. There has to be something that exists outside of the combined ephemera of the internet. So, no matter what else happens: I want there to be a physical release for the people who want/need them, and I want it to exist for its own sake. Besides…people seem to understand this less and less as the net takes over everything: there is a difference between low-quality mp3s and the finished work of music, the way it was meant to sound. If people are forgetting this it’s because they’re not asking enough from their music…and they’re letting their ears get lazy, they’re settling for a pale shadow of the true original. For a lot of music…because it’s simply shallow and dimensionless anyway, it doesn’t seem to matter. The basic “ideas” of the music still come through…but there’s so much more to music and I think it takes original physical releases and a great sound system to open the door to that world, the REAL world. These are all cliches, of course…and I think people recognize them as such and simply dismiss them. In a world, though, that seems to be translated more and more into the virtual, into a copy of the original, into a host of simulations, I think it’s more important than ever to turn away and invest in reality. Investing in the physical in that sense…IS investing in the real world, in reality, in what truly exists. It’s not just important…it’s vital, it keeps one sane. We’re still human beings, our waking, sane lives are lived in the company of objects and art manufactured by other people, by the society we live in, it’s madness to try to live differently except for short bursts of time when involved with the ravenous hive mind. Beyond that, however: it’s important for artists to encounter and work in reality, in the real space of physical objects and tactile, lived-with experiences…I know musicians ride the line on this because their art often seems to exist completely in abstractions…but I think they are forgetting the entire tradition of music: the instruments, the manufacturers of those instruments, the practice and skill of playing them, the rehearsing, the constant work of composition, the performance, etc. What comes strictly out of the virtual world often seems to reflect only that…and I wonder if it’s worthwhile investing one’s attention in the the virtual exiting the hive mind, being filtered by/through some supposedly “sentient” human and then being redirected/spat out again into the hive. What’s the purpose? It’s like the hive simply staring at itself in the mirror…and as we all know the internet is a representation of humanity’s boredom with itself, among other things…
THKD: The floor is yours. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
UA: No, not really! I just would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Josh, for your support and enthusiasm over the years, I really appreciate it, it has helped a lot! For anyone who has read through this and wants to hear the music, find out more, please visit: