NACHTMYSTIUM’S BLAKE JUDD: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
Darkthrone. Immortal. Mayhem. These are bands that are part of the black metal lexicon spoken by every fork-tongued and cloven-hoofed miscreant in the scene.
Sonic Youth? Interpol? Wax Trax Records? Not so much.
It’s a crystalline look into the mind of Blake Judd, the figurehead of the behemoth known as Nachtmystium, the black-metal rooted Chicago band that morphs it’s shape with every release. On the heels of their much lauded and much respected fan-favorite 2008 LP, Assassins: Black Meddle Part I, the band is prepping a second LP that is bound to confound the black metal purists and tip the scales in their favor for best-of year lists. Enter Addicts: Black Meddle Part 2, due June 8 via Century Media.
In between crafting his Nachtmystium material, Blake has stayed active with Twilight, a black metal supergroup of sorts that features multiple notables in the heavy music scene: N. Imperial (Kreig), Wrest (a.k.a. “Leviathan,” Lurker of Chalice), Aaron Turner (Isis), Sanford Parker (Minsk), and Stavros Giannopoulos (The Atlas Moth). The hydra-headed (pun!) beast recently released their second LP, Monument To Time End, via Southern Lord.
With Addicts on deck and the ravenous beast Twilight already in the wild, I sat down for a chat with Blake Judd himself to discuss the new Nachtmystium LP, Monument To Time End, his label Battle Kommand, hitting the road (they play NYC on June 12th), and black metal in 2010.
You’ve been known to use a lot of different collaborators from record to record. I was wondering how much the material determined using Will Lindsay (Middina, Indian, Wolves in The Throne Room), or using Wrest. Did the material dictate which collaborators you chose, or was it a “Oh, I trust these guys, and I want to work with them” kind of thing?
I think it was a little more, “Oh, I trust these guys. I want to work with these guys.” A lot of the music that influenced what I was doing on Addicts writing-wise is all stuff that I got turned to through knowing Wrest. His musical taste is spread over a wide array of music. He turned me onto stuff like Joy Division, Interpol, and some of the more poppy rock stuff that found it’s way into my music a little bit. Using him was a pretty easy choice, since he’s the guy that turned me onto that style.
Will is a jack of all trades. He’s amazing in the studio. He recently moved to Chicago and is my neighbor pretty much. I see him almost every day, and he’s a really good friend of mine. That’s why I wanted to work with him. I knew that he would be able to do the job and do it well. That’s how that collaboration came about.
Would you say that Interpol and Joy Division and that kind of post-punk, dark, gothy influence on Addicts comes from those bands and that style?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I would say a lot of it. Stuff like that and stuff like Killing Joke, old Ministry, all the same things that influenced and inspired that as well, of course.
One of thing that I find admirable about what you’re doing with Nachtmystium is there is absolutely no limit to the direction that you’ll take it, but it also has that black metal core. With that said, do you still feel a connection to black metal? Is it just a jumping off point for you?
Honestly, it hasn’t even been a conscious decision. I really don’t pay attention to black metal at all anymore. I read the magazines once in awhile. When I’m on the road, I’ll pick up a Terrorizer or whatever and read it if I’m bored at the airport or something. It’s really a good thing that I don’t keep up with it. I still listen to some of my old records, of course, but it’s kind of that I know what I like from that genre and I spent so much time immersed in it as a fan first (as a kid). Then, when I turned 21, I started doing Battle Kommand Records. I did that 24/7 for about four years. By the time I threw in the towel with that, I had fucking ten-thousand different black metal titles or something ridiculous. I just feel like I heard it all. There are a couple of bands that I’m still curious to hear their new stuff. I’m just kind of burnt out on it. It’s not really who I am anymore either. I don’t connect with the mentality of the majority of people involved in that world. I kind of politely stepped out of it. I think the influence will always be there. Black metal changed my life, and I started playing in a black metal band (this band)… it never would have gotten to where it is now. I am indebted for that, I suppose. I still like it, but as far as keeping up with it, I find it a lot cooler to make something kind of like the black metal music that I’m doing now, that is not influenced by anything going on in that community whatsoever. I take what I learned and am trying to do something new with it.
You mentioned Battle Kommand. You’ve kind of closed shop on that?
Yeah. I pay for the domain name to keep it open. It’s there, but the store is closed, and I’m not putting anything out. Candlelight Records licenses titles from me, and those will slowly come out. I think once the ones I put out there are finally gone, we won’t see them on distro lists anymore. There might be reissues of the key titles, splits, and the Nachtmystium stuff, obviously. There are a couple other records I might still sell, but overall, that was making me not want to make music. I was completely surrounded by it. My apartment looked like a fucking warehouse. I couldn’t deal with it. The day that it finally crept into my bedroom, my hallways, my living room… everywhere except the bathroom and the bedroom were completely covered in CDs and shit and vinyl everywhere.
I couldn’t deal with it anymore. One day I got a shipment of some records, and they had to go into the bedroom. I was like, “This is it. I either have to expand or throw in the towel.” Obviously I’m not going to walk away from the good successful shit going on with Nachtmystium, as I sit around and run this business that was already kind of suffocating me. So, I threw in the towel, licensed it, and I think I sold twelve-thousand CDs to Relapse, so they have quite a bit of the Battle Kommand back catalog available on their distro. I think they’re kind of trying to sell it off to mom and pop shops.
It was one of the best things I ever did. [laughs] It kind of gave me the power, if you will, to kind of keep Battle Kommand around as an imprint of Candlelight, but that band The Atlas Moth is actually a Battle Kommand release through Candlelight. Basically I just do head hunting, kind of like A&R, they put my logo on there, and I get a small percentage of their profit. Then they release it and maintain and manage the record from that point on. It’s pretty cool. I’ve only done it with that one band, but I might do it again in the future.
I had some questions about the current lineup, too. I know that Jeff Wilson was playing the first part of Europe. I know he didn’t play at Roadburn, and he’s no longer on your MySpace. Is he no longer part of the band? What happened there?
He quit. It’d been five years. Him and I lived together for two years. We were in a fucking bus or a van constantly the whole five years we’ve known each other. He had just moved upstairs about a year ago. It just got to be too much. Him and I were together just way too much. He had some stuff in his personal life that I’m not going to get into because it’s not anything due to the band, of course. He’s a little older than me, and I think he kind of got to the point where he’s like, “You know what? I’m not making a fucking thing living off of this. I’m putting in a lot of time and effort, and I got other things in my life that I want to do.” Unfortunately, he had his little fucking breakdown in Europe, which wasn’t good for us. It put us in a pretty compromising situation at first, but we figured it out. We played as a three piece for two weeks, and quite honestly, we sounded better, because he was so distracted by that point about the things going on in his own life. His head just wasn’t in the game for the last couple of tours. It just didn’t end up working out. So we went out and played as a three piece and completely kicked ass. We got a bunch of video footage of it. We found board recordings because we were kind of worried that it wouldn’t sound very full. We were wrong. It sounded fine. The crowds reacted to it just as they always do when we play a good show. We got a good response, and that’s what happened. We had some guest members, some guys from The Devil’s Blood played with us, and that was really cool. They did a terrific job. I got back home and already have a new guitar player lined up. He’s coming over to learn some more shit tonight actually.
Do you want to divulge his name or no?
When we get through a quick show, and if it works out, but it’s nobody from any mainly Chicago band or anything. It’s a guy who is local, which is really good. He’s a good guitar player and lives right in the neighborhood and fits right into the band’s personality. So we’re going to get through some more rehearsals and get a local show under our belts and see how he does. Then we’ll decide if it’s going to work out or not.
Sweet. Sounds good. You were out in Europe with the Lord Mantis guys, right?
Yeah, those guys even helped out. Actually Andrew Markuszewski, their guitar player, was in Nachtmystium for years. He used to go by the name Aamonael on earlier records. He played on the self-titled EP and wrote a lot of Demise with me and wrote quite a bit of Instinct: Decay with me, but he was living in Arizona during the time those records were recorded.
After Assassins, which did really well with the press and fans, I’m curious, as someone who created it, what your thoughts were. Was anything that you thought that you wanted to do differently or anything about it that you wanted to change with hindsight now? How did that shape how you made Addicts?
Oh, man. I could give you a laundry list of things I’d like to change about that record, starting with the drum sound. Tony [Laureano] did a great job. It wasn’t his fault at all. I’m not going to necessarily blame Sanford [Parker], but Sanford was the one who recorded the mix. We’ve talked about it since then. We wanted a really, really organic sound. I wanted something that, obviously we don’t sound like Pelican, so it’s not going to sound like Pelican. But Pelican sounded like a band playing in a room right in front of you. It’s like super acoustic sounding.
It’s not very polished but still distinctly audible. That’s what we wanted. That’s my one beef with that record. We never worked in a studio like that before, so I didn’t really have a grasp on just how much shit was available to us and how to manage time in a studio like that. It’s kind of a phenomenon that the album came out as well as it did, but if I knew then what I know now, I think it would be even better than what we delivered. So we just try and correct that on Addicts, and on the Twilight record as well. Sanford and I worked together on that and all these records. We did the Doomsday Derelicts EP with him as well. So this is like the fourth time we’ve recorded with Sanford, and we’ve probably got it figured out, what we’re capable of doing together. Now everything seems to be good.
Awesome. How would you explain how the albums sit side by side thematically?
It’s all in the lyrics and the themes more than anything. I think they’re both really weird records, and no Nachtmystium record sound like them before. They’re experimental in a kind of… what’s the word I’m looking for? They’re jarring in the same way. We definitely tried to do something different on both records and really experiment, basically. That’s what they have most in common musically, I think. Assassins was kind of unpredicted. I don’t think anyone was expecting that, but who gave a shit?, including us. We didn’t expect such a polished, produced kind of sounding album. So in the way that that one caught everybody off-guard after the previous one, we wanted this one to kind of have the same effect, instead of just recreating what we already made.
Right, absolutely. You guys have a string of dates heading up through June up to Hellfest. Do you have any plans after that?
There’s some shit in the works. We’re talking about doing a headlining tour in September and October with The Atlas Moth, and we’re going to get some other support bands. But now there are talks that we might be going out as a support band on a much bigger tour. I can’t really reveal the details, but I’ll tell you this much: it’s a legendary metal band that has a new album out, and we might be touring with them. I’m going to let you put that together.
We’re hoping that that’ll work out, but if it doesn’t, we’ll do this headlining thing by ourselves and try to get back to Europe by the end of the year and do some more work over there, or go to South America, give that a stab and see how that goes.
Who’s going to be out on the road with you, as far as lineup is concerned?
It’ll be Andrew and Charlie from Lord Mantis. Charlie on drums and Drew on bass and this new guitar player hopefully- this guy who’s been jamming with us here in town – hopefully that’ll work out. I think it’ll probably be the four of us. We’re not going to bring any synth people or anything on this run. Later in the year you can probably expect to see a fifth member onstage. We’re going to try to find a full-time electronics person to travel with us and do all the psychedelic kind of shit that’s on the records.
Are you looking forward to seeing anyone at Hellfest? Godflesh is there.
Yeah, we’re playing on the same day on the same stage, actually. They play three bands after us, so I’m definitely looking forward to that, and also seeing the The Devil’s Blood live. I haven’t seen them play before.
When it comes to the Twilight record, I think one of the things that’s most interesting about it is that a lot of times, when you put together a band from other bands that have distinct identities, the whole comes across like pieces of a puzzle. “Here’s the Wino part, and here is the Scott Kelly part,” etc. The Twilight record has elements that feel like “Oh, this sounds like an Aaron Turner style melody here.”
It’s really funny because Aaron Turner didn’t play any guitar on that record.
He did some overdub stuff. I know exactly the part you’re thinking of, and it’s all Steve [Stavros] from The Atlas Moth.
That’s funny. I guess that leads to my question: maybe Steve heard that part and was like, “You know, this is like an Aaron Turner thing. I think Aaron would sound good here.” Did that enter into it, or was it completely and totally collaborative?
It was totally collaborative. We wrote all that stuff in the studio… well, in my rehearsal room. Mainly the primary writers were Stavros, me, and Wrest. All three of us contributed guitar parts, riffs and ideas. In some cases, Wrest and I had a lot of full songs totally finished up. We just went into the jam spot and kind of worked them out. Some of it was on the spot in the studio, but not much. There is a lot of material that Wrest contributed that was unused material from Lurker of Chalice as well. That’s why the sound comes through, especially on the fourth track.
There’s definitely a kind of Lurker feel to it. Yeah, it came out really cool. I’m really happy with that record. Working with those guys was just incredible. We’re going to try and do another record hopefully by the end of the year or early next year.
Yeah, definitely, if we can get everybody together. There are talks that somebody from Sonic Youth might be playing with us as well. Sanford’s partner is Jeremy Lemos. He’s Sonic Youth’s sound technician live. So we’re pretty closely connected to them through him. Thurston Moore is a big black metal fan, so we’ve been in talks with him about getting him involved and doing something on the next record, which we’re all really hoping will happen.
Wow, that’s incredible. I was expecting you to say Steve Shelley [drummer for Sonic Youth] because I know Sanford was working Steve Shelley.
No, but that’s part of how we have access to Thurston – we know Jeremy and the fact that Sanford and Steve are doing that project together – which is incredible, by the way). The High Confessions, I think it’s called.
I’m definitely a fan of Sanford’s work and a huge Sonic Youth fan. Now that we discussed how impossible it is to get the Twlight guys back in the studio together, do you think it’s possible that you guys would ever do a couple of dates?
I think it’s possible in theory, but it would be really hard to get everybody together at the same time because there are so many people involved. If we did it, we would want to do it right. We wouldn’t want it to be half of the people. You know? It would take a ton of money to do it. Somebody would have to pay to get us all in one place together, pay to practice, then transportation to and from the gigs and stuff like that. It would really take the right offer to be able to make it happen. If there was money involved then maybe we could pull it off. It’s possible. I would like for that to happen some day, but we’ll see.
Fred Pessaro hates the name Black Bubblegum. The photographer and current metal editor/contributor at BrooklynVegan.com (metal specific content can be found here) has written and taken photos for multiple other outlets including Time Out New York, Fuse, Decibel, Crustcake, and The Arkansas Times, though all other content is credited to his slave name. As a live event promoter, he has booked and been involved in some of the most well-attended and forward-thinking shows in heavy music today.
Fred currently lives in Brooklyn with his culinarily-talented wife where the pair bring new meaning to the term “Devil’s Food.”
All live photos by Samantha Marble