Xasthur’s Scott Conner Discusses His Forthcoming Album Inevitably Dark
The legendary Xasthur is back with a new album that’s set to drop next Friday, June 23 titled Inevitably Dark. The brainchild of Scott Conner, Xasthur was formed as a black metal band in 1995 in California, where they quickly rose to prominence within the genre. That is, until Conner ended Xasthur in 2010 to begin playing acoustic dark folk, otherwise known as doomgrass, as Nocturnal Poisoning.
In 2015, Conner changed his project’s name back to Xasthur, though this version would forge ahead in the vein of Nocturnal Poisoning and beyond. So with all that leading up to the upcoming release of Inevitably Dark, we sat down with Conner to chat about the record, along with other pressing topics.
What were the most surprising discoveries that you made in the process of putting this album together?
I discovered that I could do more than I thought that I could. Some things just accidentally happened and came to me out of nowhere. And then, I realized: “Hey, I could play this kind of style too. I never really thought about it.” So, I found out that I was capable of more than one or two genres of music at an early point along the way. I wanted to discover what else I could do while I was at it. I tried a few more styles just out of curiosity to see if I could pull them off. And then, I just tried a few more. After all these years, I’m just figuring out all these half steps that were on Butchered at Birth, for example. I never knew how to do this kind of picking and death metal. So, all of a sudden, I’m playing death metal now. If something great comes to me, I’m not going to say: “I don’t fit into that genre.” If all these genuine reggae riffs start coming to me, I’ll use them.
So, speaking of genres, you’ve kind of said that your goal isn’t to limit yourself but rather to express the genre within. Prophecy Productions’ description of Inevitably Dark is pretty cool: “black metal, death metal, dark ambient, dungeon synth, acid folk, doomgrass, discordant blues and jazz.” So, this album obviously has everything. You’ve stated that you tried to make some black metal songs about a year ago but that you aren’t going to return to that style. Is it fair to say that you never really left black metal?
Yeah, I did leave for a long time, and I’m leaving again. It’s like when you go to a restaurant, you go in there and you eat your food. Thirty minutes later, you leave. Just because I walked into that restaurant doesn’t mean that I’ll be going to be in this restaurant for ten years or the rest of my life. It doesn’t mean that’s who I am now or that this is what I’m doing from here on out. I just wanted to test it out and see if I could make black metal again. It was at the point when I finally wasn’t being asked about it every day. I’m over it already. You know, the well dries up really quickly with black metal ideas. So, when it ran out for everyone else and myself, I’m like: “Alright, I’m done with it. It’s time to go back to doing my own thing.”
You were saying something about doing a lot of different genres and trying to create your own. I think that it’s possible that if a person approaches any genre totally in their own way, does it backwards, or spices it up, then it becomes more of their own genre. Some people tell me I do everything wrong. So, if you’re going to tell me I do everything wrong, I’m going to roll with that and use it to my advantage. I’m going to make the best wrong that I could possibly make. I don’t need to do it right because I don’t need to be another band that does it right, that does it all the same. So, I’m glad to do things differently. I always have been. I remember when I was four years old, I took the best vinyl that I had ever received and played it backwards. So, if people tell me that listening to my work is a challenge, then maybe I’ll provide a challenge that other artists don’t. They don’t challenge people with their music. I have to do the work that a lot of other people aren’t doing. I do the best that I can.
Definitely. Your evolution has been great to hear.
You know, Inevitably Dark already seems old to me. I’ve kind of been trying to expand upon that further. These days, I’ve found a way not just to do separate genres but to do my own. I’ve figured out how to have songs that are dark as hell and brutal but without screaming about nothing, without Marshall stacks, without distortion, without turning into some kind of black or death metal band.
Inevitably Dark’s third single dropped recently — “A Future to Fear II.” Your second single was “Euphoric Bad Trip,” which I really love. But you wrote that most people would hate it. So, I was wondering if you chose that track primarily because it felt right to you.
It is what I would’ve chosen, but Prophecy actually chose the track for me. They put a lot of thought into that because it was so different from the first one, almost as if a completely different band made it. And then, the third sounded like it could have come from a completely different band from the second single. I think the contrast is what Prophecy had in mind about when they made their decision. Rayshele Teige from the label put a lot of thought into that. Prophecy wanted to choose the three tracks that were the most different from each other. At first, I said: “What are you doing?” And then, weeks later, I was like: “That was a genius move, actually.” This record takes a lot of patience, even if it’s exactly what people want, because it’s so long and has so many different genres. I would like to do my part in trying to create more people who really pay attention. If people take the time to listen to and analyze this record, I hope that they will take the time to do the same for other things.
You would be surprised about how little patience is actually required. When I first received Inevitably Dark, I was like: “Woah, this is so long!” But it just flew by because the songs are so brilliant, gorgeous, and mesmerizing.
The reason it’s so long is because I didn’t want to have one token death metal song. One token funeral, dungeon synth song. One token folk track. One token blues song. Because if you do every genre one time each, it’s like a fluke. The record would have suffered if it was forty minutes or less like it’s supposed to be. I wanted the huge changes to keep on happening. You have something totally upbeat one minute, and then you have something dark as fuck for the next song. So, you’re wondering what just happened. You continue not knowing what to expect and wondering what the next one going to be like. You don’t know if the next song is going to be upbeat, or if there’s going to be some kind of banjo coming next. Things are changing so much. I just wanted to develop a pattern of change and unpredictability. You can’t develop a pattern when you have one token song that’s different from the last. I didn’t want everything to change just once and then that was it. Plus, I make hundreds of songs, and I throw out hundreds. I just make so much. This album is the best of a year’s worth of material.
How did you begin narrowing it down? Is it only about the “best of,” as you mentioned?
I think that’s a question that musicians and artists should ask themselves a lot more. If you sleep on something and you still like it in the morning, it might be a keeper. Then, after a month or two, you still want to be able to say: “Yeah, I really nailed it, and it turned out the way it would have hoped.” If it still has an effect on you, that’s a song that you want to keep. That’s when you know that you put everything you have into it. You made sure that it didn’t sound like anybody else. You held to your standards and had the right intent.
How did your collaboration with Robert N. go on this record?
Robert is a friend that I’ve known since I was a teenager. He would come over a lot, and we would kind of write piano stuff. I’d play something. Then, he’d make something up. And I’m like: “OK, I got the next part off of what you just did.” We would keep alternating like that. And he suggested: “Why don’t you use some of this if you want?!” And I’m like: “I don’t know how much or how little of it I’ll use and on what or where.” Sometimes, I can actually play piano like him if I want, and he can play like me if he wants. Listening back, at times, I can’t tell who’s who. So, yes, there are some parts that made it onto the record that he came up with.
During a great conversation with Mutilated Mohawk Media, you stated that you compose your songs three times and that the music and lyrics are written separately. So, I was wondering how you came up with those eye-catching song titles.
Thank you. Sometimes, they really hit the nail on the head and they’re just perfect, but I have to admit that titles are the one thing that I’m not always so sure about — I know that I hit the nail on the head with the music and the lyrics. Sometimes, I have a title and I could just say everything I need to say and write up a storm based on the title. I don’t always have a title beforehand though. A lot of times, I just write a bunch of lyrics. I’ll look through the lyrics, and I if don’t see a title in there, I’ll give it one after.
Do you have any thoughts on touring at the moment?
I want to make more of an impact than just making a record. That’s not enough for me, and I don’t know if that’s enough for anybody else. I really want to tour again. That’s what I’m really most concerned with. I have this idea that playing live can be like demonstrating what you do. When people go to see a show, it can be more than Friday night entertainment — it can be like going to see a demonstration. Playing live is a way of backing up and legitimizing what you do. We all have one way of hearing songs when they’re on an album. Sometimes, you need to both see and hear the music. It’s like: “Okay, we know the answer is 9,134,000, but how did you get that answer?!” I want to show people how I did it. This album wasn’t made on an app.
There’s a huge difference between recording an album and performing it live, even if you try to make a recording as live as possible. An album is like a painting that can’t be changed. I might think afterward: “I should have colored the sun blue, but I didn’t.” And then, it’s final. It’s done. With performances, I can add. If I wish that I would have used piano and drums on a recording, then I can try out these possibilities live. I can play songs faster, or I can slow songs down. Again, you’re not stuck with the same thing that’s on the record. You could turn a song into jazz live. You could turn it into something completely different. That’s really important to me. I want to surprise people. I want to outdo what I’ve already done live.
I read that you would like to hit the road this year. Do you think that will still happen?
I’m going to have to fight like hell to make it happen, but I think it’s possible this year. I would love to see the East Coast and New England in the fall or wintertime.
Pre-order Inevitably Dark here. An accompanying artbook will be available that features drawings by the highly accomplished Stanislav Krawczyk and an essay by Scott Conner. Those who select the artbook option will receive a third, bonus disc in addition to the double album. Prophecy is also releasing Xasthur’s Rehearsals 1997-1999 on vinyl.