ARTHUR VON NAGEL OF CORMORANT: THE OFFICIAL METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
Once the polls indicated that I was practically guaranteed to win this little contest, I decided that one thing that I really wanted for this site was an interview. But I didn’t want an ordinary interview—I wanted a killer interview. Luckily, bassist/vocalist Arthur von Nagel of the band Cormorant was more than happy to provide this interview. In fact, Arthur went way beyond anything I expected!
For starters, Cormorant is a band that is very hard to categorize. Some might be very general and say “extreme progressive metal,” while others might just be up to the task of labeling them using every subgenre that Cormorant integrates into their music (an arduous task if I do say so myself). Regardless, these guys bring an incredibly unique and diverse sound into the metal scene. Based on what I’ve heard so far, their new album Metazoa is definitely looking like it’ll be one of my top albums of the year.
Besides being a great bassist, Arthur is just a genuinely classy guy and quite the intellectual as you’ll see in the interview after the jump.
Read the interview after the jump.
Arthur, great to talk to you. For those reading this who aren’t familiar with Cormorant, explain the story behind the creation of the band, as well as your influences?
Ziltoid, it’s a pleasure to answer your questions. Though Cormorant proper has only been together since 2007, the concept behind the band developed gradually, over the course of about five years. I met our drummer Brennan Kunkel when we both joined a thrash band together. I was 17, and had just started learning the bass. Since the guitar riffing in the group was simple and punk-inflected, Brennan and I compensated by developing a nuanced and almost “melodic” rhythm section. As we improved and listened to more diverse and extreme music (around then I was all about fringe pseudo-black metal like Solefald, Celtic Frost, and Agalloch) we realized we were no longer satisfied playing straight-ahead crossover, and attempted to integrate progressive and folk elements to widen the scope of the sound. It didn’t sit well with the rest of the group.
Around this time, I had the chance to have tea with Faith No More and Ozzy Osbourne drummer Mike Bordin, introduced through a mutual friend. We immediately hit it off because we’re both huge literature geeks: I’m sure neither of us thought we’d end up discussing the merits of separating Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s literary output from his anti-Semitism. Over the course of our chat, I grew more comfortable, so I finally explained my band situation and asked for his advice. He suggested that life was too short to bother with artistic compromise. And from a man who had followed an MTV-friendly platinum record with the commercial-suicide known as Angel Dust, it was clear to me his words were sincere. Next time I met with Brennan, we began conceptualizing a new band, one without stylistic barriers.
We forged on as a two-piece, performing all the parts on a rough demo that included primitive versions of songs that would later become “Trojan Horses,” “Hanging Gardens,” and “Ballad of the Beast.” We discovered that while the framework was sound, the execution left room for improvement. So we ended up jamming with the guitarist Nick Cohon, a high school friend of Brennan’s and a former band mate, and everything clicked. Sketches of the songs “Scavengers Feast” and “The Crossing” emerged from that initial rehearsal. He was the guy. Unfortunately for us, Nick was working as a farmer at the time, and we were approaching the harvest season, so we had to wait for him a good six months. Brennan and I bided our time by moving into our own band house and building a recording studio in the living room, sending Nick photo updates to make sure he stayed committed. We were dead fucking serious about this.
Once Nick got back, we immediately began writing. Within half a year, the three of us had composed a five-song EP, The Last Tree, which we self-released in Digipak format in December 2007. Since we’re poor and pig-headed, the album was recorded, mixed and mastered over the course of a single week-end at Studio D in Sausalito, with a friend from grade school named Matthew Wilenchik engineering the sessions. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing, but I feel the production and execution still has a lot of charm. At the time, our style was more along the lines of melodic death metal like an Amon Amarth or Quo Vadis, except for the last track “Ballad of the Beast” which was a whole other animal entirely, integrating elements of doom, prog, gothic metal, black metal, jazz, operatic female vocals, piano… all hinting very directly at the sonic evolution we’d undergo over the next year to lead up to the recording of our upcoming full-length album Metazoa.
That’s quite an interesting history! Now, I hear that you guys have your debut full-length album being released on September 22nd, entitled Metazoa. That’s quite a metal title if you ask me! What does it mean, and what should we expect from the album? The three songs from the album that are currently streaming on your Myspace sound very different, so I have no clue what tricks you have up your sleeves.
After the release of The Last Tree, we felt that we wanted to build upon the sound we’d developed in “Ballad of the Beast.” Doing this successfully demanded a second guitarist. We auditioned too many to count, most quite talented, but none seemed to “get it”: they were too ingrained in a particular style. It was only while we were passing out demos at an Enslaved show that we ran into Matt Solis, then the bassist for the local power metal band In Virtue. He was actually an accomplished guitarist, composer and singer who was essentially filling in on the four-strings, so he was looking for a project that would let him flex his writing chops a bit. He loved the demo we gave him, so he e-mailed us, and we auditioned him soon after. He fit perfectly. He learned all our material within a month. His prog-inflected playing was exactly the direction we were heading in already, so he accelerated the process. The addition of his clean singing with my harshes expanded our vocal palette, and the guitar harmonies he offered added so much depth. I felt then that the sound was truly blooming into the no-limits concept Brennan and I had envisioned those years prior.
The name Metazoa reflects this scope of styles and influences. “Metazoa” is a zoological term that categorizes all the world’s multi-cellular animals. This of course includes human beings. We felt the title enveloped the variety of lyrical subjects and genres employed on the album. The idea for the title came from a quirk in the lyrics: every single song contains an animal. This was discovered by accident, so the record was never intended as a concept album. From Metazoa you should expect good storytelling and surprises. Styles hover around a template of progressive blackened death metal, with various elements of folk, NWOBHM, and doom/sludge appearing over the 70-minute length. The first half of the album is overall more up-tempo, direct, and tinged with trad metal, while the more moody second half, beginning with “Hanging Gardens” borrows from doom and black metal. The latter half of the album also features the mournful cello performance of Judgement Day’s Lewis Patzner (http://www.myspace.com/judgementday). His tasteful playing lends elegance and gravity to the songwriting.
By the way, that’s some excellent cover artwork! Many metal album covers these days are boring and generic, but Metazoa’s cover is simply fantastic. Is there any theme or meaning that you guys had put into it, or are we to interpret it however we see it? Also, who did your artwork?
The art was created by a Sacramento-based illustrator named Julie Dillon (http://www.jdillon.net/), and she is a genius. I can’t praise her work enough. Not only does she produce incredibly detailed, beautiful designs, she’s a total pleasure to collaborate with, and always delivers revisions quickly with a smile and a sense of humor. She’s a huge metal fan and looking to diversify her portfolio into the music. Bands, labels, magazines: hire this woman immediately. Please do interpret the art as you see fit. I think everyone in the band has his own idea of what the artwork signifies. The cover was conceptualized to match the sound and themes of the music very closely, though the main inspirations were gathered mostly from the songs Hole in the Sea, The Emigrant’s Wake, and Sky Burial. Keep a close eye for all the clever details, like the family of cormorants on the bottom right corner. While the cover art is damn beautiful on its own, what really impresses me is that, once you unravel the Digipak,
the complete piece is actually an uninterrupted mural extending over three whole panels. It’s just massive. Can’t wait to see it in vinyl.
Metazoa was produced by SUPERSTAR PRODUCER Billy Anderson, of Neurosis and Sleep fame amongst many others. What was it like working with him? Also, how did his presence affect the overall sound of the album?
Working with Billy Anderson was a joy. And it had to be, because we were holed up at Sharkbite Studios recording Metazoa with him for two weeks straight. To understand how Billy approaches the role of producer, imagine your favorite uncle, the charming, foul-mouthed one who can spin a mean yarn, spouting crazy factoids and clever jokes about the most random subject, and who treats you to a beer when you’re having a rough time. That’s Billy. He’ll hardly ever say “no” to any ridiculous idea you may have, his default reaction to experimentation being “let’s fuckin’ try it!” His MO for a really climactic vocal or guitar line? “Double and triple that shit up!” When he really enjoys a performance? “That was tight as a baby’s asshole!” Andy Sneap he is not.
Good thing, haha. Based on what we’ve heard so far from Metazoa, Billy was the perfect choice.
And you know, I feel his improvisational, Pollock-like approach to tracking really worked for us. Our music is all about depth, layers, story telling, and genre blurring, and he completely understood that from the start. He insisted that we record the songs live all the way through without a click track, so the performance would feel honest. All the drum and bass guitar tracks are heard as we played them, with maybe 3 or 4 minor punch-ins on the whole album. We even kept most of the initial “scratch” guitar tracks, and then just layered over them for added heft. No Pro-Tools trickery here. Oh, and I hate to reveal Billy’s secret, but despite all the rumors about him being batshit insane, while we were recording he was an absolute professional. There were no drugs or liquor at all in the studio, he’s very polite, he’s respectful of women, and he works his ass off. How boring, right? Hell, my grandmother met him and she wouldn’t stop going on about how much of gentleman he was. Sorry Billy, but the cat’s out of the bag. And to be even sappier, I can say now that I consider him a true friend.
Billy influenced our sound in subtle ways. He’s not at all the type of producer who will mess with your song structure or tweak your riffs. He strikes me more as the grand visionary type. He actually gave a shit about my lyrics, and would offer suggestions for their delivery to help accentuate the meaning. For example, in “Blood on the Cornfields,” about the Nat Turner slave uprising, he insisted that I put tremendous emphasis on the final line of the song: “skinned.” He observed that for the southern Whites to so desecrate the executed Black revolutionary’s identity by cutting of his flesh was highly symbolic, and so the line bore repeating. It worked beautifully, succinctly linking all the themes together. In that same song, my voice cracked at the end of a particularly revealing verse culled from Nat Turner’s confessions: “Was Christ not crucified?” I was self-conscious about it and wanted to redo the take, but Billy refused the do-over, saying the voice crack was honest and chilling. I’m so glad I didn’t get my way, because now it’s one my favorite moments of my vocal performance. In terms of tones, we spent a whole day just working those out. Billy was obsessive, and he had a very clear idea for the sound of all the instruments. “Organic” was the word of the session for him, and we were all in perfect agreement that the drums should sound huge, old-school and analog, avoiding the clicky, over-triggered BS miring far too many modern extreme metal albums. Of course, they needed to be loud, so what we ended up doing was sampling Brennan’s own drum kit, then mixing in those hits with his actual performance, so the “triggers” were really just a regularized recording of himself. For the guitars and bass, Billy’s legendary predilections for lower frequencies definitely delivered (much to my delight as a bassist), without ever falling into muddiness. The guitars are beefy, layered and powerful, with the bass completely audible, dancing around the rhythm lines. I hear some definite Through Silver in Blood moments in the mixing, particularly in the more doomy tracks like Hole in the Sea and Sky Burial, so if you’re going to pinch from Neurosis, you might as well hire the real deal.
Billy also influenced our sound by recommending an incredible mastering engineer in the form of Justin Weis from Trakworx studios. Justin’s local legends resume of Slough Feg, Hammers of Misfortune, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Ludicra and Brocas Helm definitely spoke to us. I’ve never met anyone with so delicate an ear. He went through every part of the album with a fine-toothed comb, and his mastering work was exactly what we were looking for, just loud enough to crush your skull, without falling off the cliff into Death Magnetic loudness-war territory. I think in the end Billy surprised himself by how much he enjoyed the project, since we were perhaps a bit outside his usual style. One of the highest compliments we’ve received thus far on Metazoa was Billy calling me up to say, “You know, I almost never listen to albums I work on, but I’ve been spinning yours non-stop for weeks now.”
That’s quite a compliment! I’ve heard that there are going to be some very sexy pre-order packages, as well as the possibility of some combination packages including either your first EP The Last Tree or a Cormorant shirt (those blue logo shirts are quite cool by the way). Would you mind telling us what the packages are shaping up to be? Also, will a vinyl release happen? Those seem to be still very popular with the collectors and audiophiles
Pre-orders for the Metazoa 6-panel DigiPak CD will open on September 1st via Paypal through our web store at http://cormorantmusic.blogspot.com/ (the page is inactive until then). The album will cost $12 plus shipping, and all pre-orders will come with a free, signed 11 x 17 poster of the album artwork. There will indeed be package deals. For a lower combined rate, you’ll be able to order Metazoa in conjunction with our EP The Last Tree, or with our available T-shirts, or even a combination of the three. Package deals will not only come at a discount, but also include a free sticker, in addition to the aforementioned pre-order poster. I ship extremely quickly, and for some early pre-order buyers, you might actually receive the album in the mail before the official September 22nd release date. I’m cool with music piracy, but the age-old (and normally accurate) argument that “bands hardly receive any money from CD sales anyway” doesn’t apply in this case: we paid for all the album costs ourselves, so 100% of profits from our web store go right back into the band to afford the next album/tour. We will be releasing Metazoa on vinyl through Kim Kelly’s newly established Saturnine Media imprint, and though no release date is set as of yet, hopefully by the end of the year. Expect a double gatefold 2xLP, in limited edition colors. We’d also like to include a free high bit rate download code with the purchase of the vinyl. I believe very strongly in the vinyl format, both for the sound fidelity and as a larger canvas for the artwork. And of course it’s the only physical music medium that has seen an increase in sales since the advent of file sharing. Unfortunately vinyl is ungodly expensive to print, so expect no more than 500 available copies in this first pressing. Collectors better jump on it or face future price gauging on eBay.
On Blabbermouth, it said that you guys had a few distribution deals, but otherwise are self-releasing the album. Financially speaking, was that the best option out there? Are record labels really in that shitty shape? I remember seeing you talk about an offer from Code666 amongst other labels, and that you were in talks with Nuclear Blast rather recently, so labels were obviously interested (Why the hell wouldn’t they be? If Born of Osiris could get signed, you guys should be rich.). Is it better for bands like Cormorant to self-release these days, especially in this financial climate (and more importantly, is it worth getting screwed by a record label for the possibility of them promoting you)? Explain the thought process behind the band’s decision of how to release the album. And for those of us too lazy to buy it from a band’s website, will there be a way to get the album through The End’s webstore or something like that with the distribution deals?
I mentioned to a friend who didn’t understand the mechanics of the music industry that we’d been offered several record deals for Metazoa, and he sincerely said “Wow that’s great! Now you can quit your day jobs and focus on music full-time.” Ha! But this reaction is not uncommon, and many still think there’s real money to be made in metal music, even for smaller bands.
This is not news to anyone reading this, but the recording industry is on life support at the moment, and not the exciting kind where George Clooney teams up with Gregory House and Doogie Howser to find the miracle cure for lupus. The already piracy-ravaged industry has over the course of the last year suffered a slow death by asphyxiation
courtesy of the global economic downturn. Many labels are currently on a signing freeze, particularly for new bands. I actually heard from one company that they weren’t even considering new groups from genres outside nu-thrash and deathcore. It’s that bad.
When we started shopping Metazoa, we were fortunate and received several contract offers, but for various financial and legal reasons we had to politely decline. You must understand that we paid for 100% of all the recording costs out of our own shallow pockets, so we were under the silly impression that our massive initial investment would
afford us leverage to secure the rights to our own publishing, mechanical royalties and masters, and perhaps even negotiate better- than-average terms on album sales. That was naïve of us. Instead, the contracts promised to get our name out there, but at the cost of our artistic and financial freedom, and by way of sacrificing any chance of recouping our recording costs. No advances were offered, and it’s my understanding that this is now the industry norm for newer bands. By signing, we would effectively be forcing our band into bankruptcy or litigation within two years time.
Since we had already paid for everything, it was clear to us that what we were looking for in a label was not really money, but legitimacy, connections, and PR muscle. So it made sense to strike up a promotional deal with Saturnine Media to put their stamp on the album. So while the arrangement is non-traditional, Metazoa is technically not a self-release. We’d worked with Kim Kelly’s Catharsis PR since our first publicist (and big fan of this site) Adrian Bromley passed away. She’d done a fantastic job getting the word out on us, so we completely trusted her to expand her role when she expressed interest in releasing our album.
As to Code666 Records, I have tremendous respect for Emi and his label. They were straight up and honest with us, sincere fans of our music. And frankly any label with the balls to release Negura Bunget’s brilliant but completely uncommercial Romanian black metal opus Om is a winner in my book. What happened there is simply that negotiations fell apart after Code666’s two biggest distributors, Pinnacle and SPV, filed for insolvency. Though from a branding perspective I’d still love to be a part of their roster (which includes/included some top-notch bands like Fen, Void of Silence, Enid, Axis of Perdition, Aghora, Amesoeurs and Ephel Duath), to us it seemed like theywere simply in too precarious a financial position at the time, and it wouldn’t be a comfortable working relationship for either party. So we mutually stopped the deal. But still, artistically, Code666 is pushing the progressive envelope and releasing some of the most daring and inventive metal out there, and it was a great honor that they wanted to include us. The aborted contract was just a question of poor timing. The distribution deals we have in place currently include The End Records and Relapse Records in the USA, and Candlelight Records in Europe. So assuming you’d rather not buy Metazoa directly from us, it will be available through their web shops. You could also theoretically have your local brick & mortar record store order it from their distro network. The terms of these distribution agreements are actually quite generous, so you’ll definitely be supporting us regardless of where you buy the album.
Metal is a genre known for many things, but good lyrics are rarely one of them. Some bands sing about fairies and dragons and shit, others sing about boat rudders and strange mountains, and so many bands overdo the satanic crap. But I’ve seen you say on multiple occasions that your lyrics are one of the most important aspects of your music. I’ve read some of them, and they’re truly better than much of what’s out there. Why are lyrics so important to you, and what is the inspiration behind them?
My goal as a lyricist is to be journalistic first, poetic second, and philosophical third. Even in surrealistic songs, I strive for a cohesive, logical story, with definite set-up, plot, climax and denouement. It doesn’t matter if the track is about a subject as seemingly over-the-top as the mating rituals of the North American bull elk (check our EP for that one), there are always very definite characters and personalities involved. As such, I map out the lyrics as narrative bullet points first before reinterpreting them into verse format. When I’m working out the poetic form, I usually try to picture how the music should sound to match the emotion. If there’s a happy, triumphant moment, I’ll perhaps integrate catchy AABB iambic pentameter rhyme schemes, or if the mood is dark and twisted, I’ll explore something a untraditional and off-center, like the mixed- syllable AABCCBBDDE scheme that opens up Scavenger’s Feast, or I’ll forego rhyme completely. Only once the story and structure is perfected will I start refining the message, pruning the details that don’t relate to the thematic thrust of the song, and accentuating the parts that do as motifs or refrains.
The themes of Metazoa came together by accident. It was never a concept album, as the lyrics were written over the course of several years, while I was going through a lot of different mind states. I wrote the words to “Hole in the Sea” while under sleep-deprivation, on a plane heading home to San Francisco from Europe. I was watching the sun rise over the Atlantic. That morning view, coupled with my day and a half of sleeplessness, contributed to the song’s psychedelic mood and abstract, mythic imagery. “The Emigrant’s Wake” came to me after a trip to Stinson, a beach I loved as a kid. When I was there with grade-school friends we’d concoct pirate treasure hunts and medieval jousts in the dunes, create massive sand sculptures… and we always felt this playful fear of the ocean, dipping our feet in the water just so, then running away as the waves chased us to shore. When I visited Stinson again as an adult, the adventures I imagined then seemed so insignificant, the mystery gone, and I experienced this horrible “Calvin-realizing-Hobbes-isn’t-real” moment. I feel the struggle to preserve that youthful magic and innocence against the adult realities of suffering, hatred and poverty is the tension that glues all the lyrics in Metazoa together. This friction is most real for me in “Hanging Gardens,” which is set up as a children’s fairy tale on a floating island paradise in the sky, but the lyrics really originate from an aborted suicide note my father had written, and I had the displeasure of reading. As the story progresses, more and more of the original inspiration seeps into the words and music, until the song dissolves in a bleak sludge of chromatic dissonance. So I’m often mining this oscillation between the childlike and the nightmarish… a Kafka meets The Little Prince vibe. There’s another side to the lyrics, when I’m exploring historical or social issues. We are not a political band. However, I am a political person. I’m not here to preach, so I leave my thoughts veiled, but the lyrics are rife with social and philosophical commentary if the listener is so inclined. The story always comes before the message though. I feel it’s essential each song follows a strong, cohesive narrative first and foremost, and then my own beliefs on the subject can be inferred later. Some examples of these more story-driven songs include “Blood on the Cornfields” about the Nat Turner slave rebellion, and “Uneasy Lies the Head” about the Reign of Terror brought down on France by Robespierre following the Revolution, during which nearly 40000 executions were carried out. In the Iron Maiden tradition, I’m a massive history nerd, so I’ll often conduct several weeks of research before adapting any real life events to lyric form. And then of course the lyrics themselves go through dozens of tweaks and rewrites. A strong marriage between the words and music is essential to me, so there are always modifications made when combining the two, and we don’t have any hard and fast rule regarding which is written first. For “Hanging Gardens,” the lyrics had been set in stone for several years. When we arranged the music, we built it very precisely around the words, so that each riff and movement translated the events and moods expressed in the poem. That style of writing accounts for the song’s linear structure, since neither the words nor music contain refrains of any sort. The words to “Salt of the Earth,” in contrast, were written after the music, so I took inspiration from the “color” of the riffing. I function very visually, so I like to close my eyes while listening, and let my mind paint a picture. For “Salt” I imagined a lot of greens, browns and reds, fields blown back by the wind, the travels of poppies and dandelion seeds… and then I built a story around those images. The lyrics to “Sky Burial” were also written after the music, but this was a unique case because the song’s structure called for several minutes of ambience right in the middle of the piece. So for a change I wasn’t matching the words to any particular riffing, but adding my voice to a landscape of free-form acoustic instrumentation. This near-silence struck me as meditative, which eventually led me to a study of Buddhist myth and ritual. From this research I discovered the Tibetan funerary practice of jhator, which we call “sky burial” in the West. In this rite, specialized monks are assigned the task of rendering the body of the deceased into a pulp, which is then exposed to the vultures on a mountaintop. It is considered an act of generosity to nature, an offering to the living. I felt that was very inspiring, and a fitting rebuttal to the Werner Herzog-esque depiction of nature as an all-consuming, thoughtless chaos I’d imagined in the first track, “Scavengers Feast.”
So while Metazoa was never conceived as a concept album, there are thematic threads that run through all the songs. What jumped out to us as we were contemplating album titles was something completely unintentional: every single lyric contains an animal. And these creatures aren’t just background imagery, but active participants in the song’s narrative. In “The Crossing,” the story of a poor manual worker crossing the border in hope of sending money to his family back home, the battered, fearful dog foreshadows the protagonist’s future, scrounging in the dust for scraps to survive, while the proud desert wolves of the past have all fallen to extinction. The cosmic she-whale in “Hole in the Sea” instigates the creation of a new world after destroying ours. The ever-hungry hornets, flies, buzzards, and jackals in “Scavengers Feast” speak of nature’s complete disregard of man’s higher ethical and philosophical constructs. So we felt it important to represent these so-called “lesser-creatures” in the album’s name. For me the title captures that sense of mystery and discovery I loved as a child.
Wow! That’s really deep stuff. How about live gigs? I saw the live stream of you guys opening up Paganfest at the DNA Lounge in California, and you guys were spot on. What was it like opening up for a great band like Primordial? Hell, did you get to meet any of them?
Glad you enjoyed our set! That gig was a bit strange for us, because when we showed up with all our gear, we found out that we’d have to use all the tour manager’s equipment instead, so there was a bit of an adjustment period. In most of these touring metal fests, the bands are all using the same gear to facilitate transport and smooth over set changes. Say what you will about the corporatization of music festivals, but the Paganfest organizers run a tight Drakkar. Primordial are no-question some of the nicest muckers around. It was a real honor meeting them, since I’d been a huge fan of their music for years. A big reason we chose Billy Anderson as Metazoa’s producer was because of his raw, somber work with them on A Gathering Wilderness. “Coffin Ships” is such a mournful, heartbreaking song. It’s funny chatting with Primordial though, because they’re so damn Irish it felt like listening to the books-on-tape version of Ulysses. Of course, I’m sure that, to them, we Californians all sound like Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Alan looks very intense while he applies his corpse paint, but when you chat with him, he’s a sweetheart. We talked about the difficulties of balancing day jobs and touring/recording, which most musicians have had to suffer through. Oh, and Michael, their guitarist, was wearing a bitchin’ Drudkh
shirt, which made my inner black metal hipster jump for joy.
You’ve also played with the likes of Giant Squid, Wolves in the Throne Room, Hammers of Misfortune, Grayceon, Black Cobra, Saviours, Ludicra, and even headlined a show over Slough Feg. Any more shows coming up soon? Maybe a tour of the US in the not-so-distant future? I might just leave my mother’s basement where I obviously spend all of my time to go see you guys. Also, what’s your most memorable live moment?
You know, for some reason, we’ve never actually played with Ludicra, which we need to remedy soon.
Whoops, my mistake. Well, they’re great regardless. I’d love to see that show.
Haha, no problem. I love that band, though they hardly ever played live until recently. Get their album Fex Urbis Lex Orbus for some awesome art-punk, urban-themed USBM. We’re actually going to be seeing them live with Amber Asylum and Hammers of Misfortune the day this interview is published, so we’re psyched. Giant Squid, man, we can’t get enough of them. Their front man, Aaron Gregory, was kind enough to contribute guest vocals to our psychedelic jam song “Hole in the Sea.” That track was crazy to record, because while we had the lyrics in advance, we improvised all the music live in the studio Grateful Dead style, so we didn’t really know how it would turn out. Then Aaron showed up to sing and fucking killed it. It’s one of my favorite songs on the new album, actually. We’re really fortunate to be a part of the phenomenal San Francisco metal scene. The eclectic, anything-goes nature of the music here was influential in shaping our own sound.
Our CD release show will be September 24th at Thee Parkside in San Francisco alongside Velnias (from Chicago), Elm and Fell Voices, courtesy of Whore For Satan promotions. We have an hour-long set, so we’ll be playing nearly the whole album. This show is a must for any fan of atmospheric, folky black metal. I promise the line-up will make you want to defenestrate your television, move to a shack in the woods and grow your own vegetables.
As to tours… Yes, there will be a tour to support the release of Metazoa. I can’t offer dates or other details just yet, but it’s happening. We’re looking to do a West Coast run first, and then hopefully a full on nationwide one next year. Since we’re putting this together totally DIY, what we can pull off will depend in part on the reception and press received from the album, so any music journalists reading this, please do get in touch. Help spread the word about us so that one day Ziltoid here may claw his way out of his mother’s basement.
We’ve experienced some ridiculous gig happenings but my favorite live moment was just this week actually, and we weren’t even performing at the time. This show was at a bit of a dive in the boonies, and we were scheduled to play with a couple touring thrash bands. Turns out they cancelled, so the booker scrambled to find replacements, and our set ended up being sandwiched between a NYC punk trio and a Sacramento hard rock bar-band named Twitch Anger. So we finished our set, and Twitch Anger took the stage. They played solidly, your workmanlike Pantera, AC/DC, Misfits style, but then I heard from their singer’s mouth the greatest chorus in the history of recorded sound: “FUCK YOU! IN THE NECK!” And he kept repeating it over and over. “FUCK YOU IN THE NECK FUCK YOU IN THE NECK FUCK YOU IN THE NECK.” There might have been other words in that song, but I couldn’t tell you what those were, except I do believe I heard some mention of “cunt kicking.” There’s no doubt in my mind he sang that chorus in all caps. Then the vocalist for the New York punk band jumped on stage, grabbed a mic, and joined in on the neck fucking. My band mates all began rocking out in unison. The whole bar joined in. It was just glorious. So I think now we will call our next album FUCK YOU IN THE NECK.
Oh yeah, during the Paganfest gig, the first thing you did was go up to the microphone and say “GHOULS! ATTACK THE CHURCH!” as a mic check. Are you trying to summon demons to attack our various religious institutions? Are you the evil satanist the mainstream media warns us about that is in all of the tr00 heavy metal like Slipknot, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Emmure, and Marilyn Manson? What was that about?
I was trying to summon David Vincent to slay any falses in the audience.
I guess I’m a bit rusty on my satanic incantations, because Kip Winger showed up instead. Oh well. It was a valiant effort on your part. As to the mainstream media, I sacrificed 3 goats to the eternal glory of Baphomet while brushing my teeth this morning.
Just kidding; I don’t brush my teeth.
Haha, brushing teeth is for falses. I love your dedication to true metal! What artists have had the most influence on you and Cormorant’s music? Do all of you guys listen to relatively similar music?
Major influences on Cormorant’s sound include Enslaved, Slough Feg, Novembre, Dissection, Agalloch, Celtic Frost, My Dying Bride, Thin Lizzy, King Crimson, Ulver, and Sigh, among a million others. My bass playing style is cribbed mostly from Sean Malone of Cynic, various jazz players, and the bassists of Fleurety and In The Woods… My lyrics are inspired by a lot of Symbolist and Romantic French poetry, Bob Dylan, William Blake, and countless films and paintings. We all listen to a very wide spectrum of music, with our own particular areas of interest. Nick is our resident expert of American traditionals, and even played acoustic guitar for the old-time country band The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers. He’s a really solid banjo and fiddle player. Brennan just recently got back from a reggae music festival. He’s a talented hip-hop producer who puts together some pretty complex beats as a hobby. Matt and I are more the obscure metal guys, but we have some quirky tastes: ask Matt about his thoughts on Tom Waits or Johanna Newsom, and don’t even get me started on my love for Portishead and Cocteau Twins.
What inspired you to be a musician, especially a bassist?
I was first attracted to the bass guitar because it’s under-appreciated in metal. The instrument’s second-tier status allows for more creative freedom and experimentation, as opposed to drums and guitar, where the bar for virtuosity has been set to ridiculous levels. I was never particularly interested in technical wizardry, instead gravitating toward a more melodic, complementary playing style, dancing in and out around the guitars when appropriate, hinting at the root note rather than chaining myself to it. For me, the ultimate bass performance in metal has to be Sean Malone’s work on Cynic’s album Focus, because while it pushes the boundaries of technicality, his playing somehow remains tasteful and harmonious with the song as a whole. It’s just beautiful work.
I studied for several years with a fusion and classical contrabassist named Clarence Stephens, and a lot of his improvisational, chord- inflected playing rubbed off on me. As a result, I prefer to keep my bass tone closer to jazz than metal, heavy on the low-mids, smooth, watery, articulated and undistorted, almost acoustic. To achieve this, I enlisted the help of master luthier Greg Nelson of Greg Nelson Guitars (http://nelsonsguitars.com/Electrics.htm) to build me a couple of custom instruments. The first, which I played exclusively on our EP The Last Tree, is a five-string unlined fretless with a cocobolo top and a lacewood body. A monster of an instrument, with sustain for years. The second bass guitar I commissioned is a six-string fan-fret, with a redwood body and figured cherry top. The fan-fret design means each string is attached to its own individual bridge, offering perfect intonation and tone across the fretboard. I fell so in love with these basses that now I won’t play anyone else’s. And yeah, that’s a real nautilus shell and working antique pocket watch in the headstocks.
I’ve heard that you have a guinea pig. Is that the most grim and frostbitten pet of all? If so, why?
My girlfriend and I are indeed the proud owners of an orange and white Peruvian guinea pig named Lemmy Kilmister. His favorite activities include consuming his own feces, raping, pillaging, ruthlessly slaughtering various fruits and vegetables, and making lawns die. Lemmy is very forward with his desires. For example, he decided he no longer approved of our beat-up old couch, so he proceeded to squeak angrily then piss all over it. This sounds like something the real Lemmy Kilmister would do as well, except instead of squeaking before soiling our furniture he would grunt something incoherent and British. [laughs]
That is the best pet ever! Any last words for the readers out there?
May these be first words rather than last ones.
Wow, very nicely said. Thank you for all of the time, effort, and detail that you put into this interview. To everyone else out there, pre-order Metazoa ASAP (September 1st) and take advantage of all of the special deals that Cormorant is offering. This is shaping up to be one of the best albums of 2009. Otherwise, the official release date is September 22nd. Enjoy! Here’s the poster for the album release show!
And some live Cormorant videos!
Video by Anton