CVLT Nation Interviews LOCRIAN
Formed in 2005, Locrian have been operating according to their own unique sonic agenda for a decade. While doom music has been trending and bands have been slowing the tempo down, Locrian have been going about their business differently but no less loudly. Their unique mash-up of genre – a breadth stretching from and including elements of noise, industrial and black metal to post-metal and ambient/electronic – combined with a heavily improvised approach makes Locrian a considerably progressive force in music. No more is this apparent than in their latest record Infinite Dissolution, where a rich tapestry of sounds (on the track ‘KXL II’, you can even hear the ghost of Arthur Russell) echo amid an oddly sanguine apocalyptic vision of death and rebirth. It’s the apex of everything we have come to know and love about Locrian; their bleak, apocalyptic visions and dense soundscapes give back as much as they demand.
I caught up with Locrian to ask them about their latest release, their unique apocalyptic vision and the strong visual aesthetic that accompanies their music.
Tell us about your new record Infinite Dissolution. How does it follow from your 2013 release Return to Annihilation?
André: This album is about the sixth extinction, or the sixth mass extinction event, which humans are witnessing and causing now. I hope that the material can inspire people to start to have conversations about the topic and begin to work to come up with ways of responding to this crisis.
Terence: Return to Annihilation was more about this double helix of the planet eradicating our presence. Infinite Dissolution is really about how it is impossible to hold in our minds the idea that we are causing our extinction. There’s this piece of art by Damien Hirst The Physical Impossibility of Death in the mind of Someone Living, it is a giant tiger shark preserved in a vitrine of formaldehyde. That piece comes to mind to me.
Steven: Repeating what Terence and Andre mentioned for a moment, the new record is about the sixth extinction, and it was partially inspired by The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert. This is something we were aware that is happening right now, whether humankind accepts it or not, and we thought we’d focus on this very important subject for this particular record. We are all very aware of the environment, and the damages humans have done to it – some of this might be reversible over a long period of time, and some… well, the damage is done and we’ll have to learn to live with this. I should mention that we don’t want to come off as “preachy” that is NOT our intention. We just all agree that this is very important and we want folks to understand that this is happening. Just be alert and aware; learn about, talk about it, and help when you can.
From what I understand, improvisation has always played a big role in how you write and record music. Was this the case with Infinite Dissolution because some of the tracks sound more structured? I really like ‘The Future of Death’ for this reason – it starts really abstract and noisy then settles into a big synth effect and guitar riff, with a huge vocal running through.
André: Improvising and spontaneity are an essential component of our approach to playing anything.
Terence: I think things are more structured, intentionally. Because after you’ve really had a lot of loose pieces it is maybe more shocking to have structure. It is something that is exciting to us, it challenges us. Plus we want the whole album to be listened to all the way through and there has to be places it changes up, contrasts of loose and the tight.
Steven: For this record we had more structured ideas, as opposed to a few of the past records. We spent more time emailing ideas and sending mp3s to each other. We also had a few pieces that we had worked on a couple years ago that we knew we wanted to expand on and we felt this was the right time and place to do that. With every Locrian recording session (at least since I’ve been playing with them) there has been a big focus on improvisation, which is something we all want, and will continue to do. But with that said, I’d say our improvising live has cut down quite a bit. It’s still there, and there’s still a question mark hovering above us when we walk on stage, it’s just that question mark isn’t so big anymore, that might change in the future, but who knows.
How do you play live? Do you have a structure in mind for the set and do you follow structures for individual tracks or is it more improvised and spontaneous?
André: In 2015, we’ll have set tracks for the set, but there is room for improvisation within those tracks.
Terence: Live we have a set, but each track has moments or cues to shift or go into parts. Nothing is ever played twice the same.
Steven: Yeah, as mentioned in my last answer, we’ve done less “live” improvising – meaning we don’t go out and fully pull off a 10 improv track on the fly. Every song we have is structured, kind of like a lose skeleton, we fill in where and when we see fit, like Terence said, nothing played the same twice, but the overall structure, or heart of the song will be the same… for the most part.
You’re known for experimentation and synonymous with drawing on a range of musical styles. Infinite Dissolution is, for my money, the strongest testament to this. There is so much going on in this record. I even hear ghosts of Arthur Russell on ‘KXL II’. What were your major inspirations making this record?
André: I’m inspired because this project has more to contribute creatively and conceptually, perhaps more now than ever before.
Terence Hannum: I love Arthur Russell. We do have some very broad influences; maybe on this album we would talk about things like Einstürzende Neubauten or Coil, but also like Ozzy Osbourne’s first albums and Voivod, or Ramleh. Stuff like that. Very broad.
Steven: Oh, hell yes! That’s a great compliment. Thank you. I’m a fan of Arthur Russell for sure, although I wasn’t consciously thinking of him when we recorded the record. If anything, I was thinking more Einstürzende Neubauten, Popol Vuh, Darkthrone, Voivod and a few important soundtracks for the most part – IF I was thinking of other artist at all. I will agree with Terence though, those first two Ozzy records are solid classics, and the guitar tone is fucking top-notch.
Because of the diversity of styles you draw on, most press about you guys seems to struggle to label you, citing black metal, post-metal, drone, industrial, electronics and noise as possible markers of your sound. Was it always your intention to sidestep easy genre classification or did it come naturally?
André: We just play what inspires us and we like a lot of music. Yes incorporated various styles. So did early Genesis, King Crimson, Magma and other early prog rock bands. I don’t think that these bands were trying to cause nosological confusion, and we’re not trying to do that either.
Terence: I think we just want to make what challenges us, what gets us excited. I think there are always going to be bands who really want to be orthodox about what they do, like they want to sound like a death metal band from the 1990s, or Darkthrone, or Electric Wizard or whatever. I love a lot of that music, Darkthrone or Suffocation, but the world doesn’t need another one. I never thought that the gambit that was put down was to follow Obituary or Death or Emperor or whoever. I always thought they clear this path and it is your job, since you’re in the wake, to go past it. To me the struggle is good, to have a hard time with who we are – then we succeeded.
Steven: …or, the struggle with how to label us, THEN we have succeeded. We just play drawing from our individual musical inspirations, and then there also happens to be this great chemistry between us when we play. What happens after that is out of our hands when it comes to classification, categorization, and press.
One thing I find really striking about your music is the vocal. It’s always an eerie and powerful aspect of your sound, whether it features only for a minute or an entire track. I especially love how patient and sparing you can be with it, like on ‘A Visitation from the Wrath of Heaven’ from Return to Annihilation – it’s not until the 6 minute mark (of an 8 minute track) that we hear the vocal. Can you tell us more about the role of the vocal in your music? Is there a strong lyrical component or is it more about texture?
Terence: Thank you. Well, our albums are very narrative so there’s a story being told, but I think you have to use it sparingly; we don’t exactly write verse, chorus, verse tracks. So I just try to think of what works, and try and surprise myself, sing over something heavy, let the music do what it does. It is about texture, but I have lyrics, there are things being said, screamed, shouted, sung etc. But the idea is the overall song, or overall album or live experience. Is the vocal necessary? – we ask it of everything: the drum, or synth or guitar. To paint the picture we’re trying to paint.
In numerous interviews you’ve talked about the dystopian narrative that underpins your music. When constructing such a narrative, it would be easy to slip into tired ‘metal’ clichés and genre tropes but you don’t; you manage to stay fresh and interesting, producing music that is genuinely poignant and profound. Can you tell us a little more about the philosophy behind Locrian?
André: It’s decayed music for a decaying civilization.
Terence: We kind of arrived thinking about how industrial music fit this critique of society, it could revel in decay but actually tell us about the world they saw around them. I think that really made an impact on us and formed our ideas about the themes. Prog-rock always had this more utopian or dystopian science fiction element. I don’t know, it’s a marriage of those worlds in a way. Using science-fiction to talk about how we see the world falling apart.
A very strong visual aesthetic complements this dystopian narrative. I really love the covers for both Return to Annihilation and The Clearing/The Final Epoch; they remind me of the desolation of a Tarkovsky movie. Infinite Dissolution has a much more vibrant, futuristic cover (created by David Altmejd) although no less dystopian. Can you tell us more about the visual side of Locrian and why you decided to work with Altmejd on for your latest album art?
Terence: Thank you, Stalker is one of my favourite films of all time. I taught a class on Tarkovsky once. Well, I have always felt that when I was young the album covers of say a band like Sonic Youth could turn you on to artists like Mike Kelley or Gerhard Richter. To me, that was inspiring – to be tuned in to these contemporary artists and, this being before the internet, if you went to a museum you could maybe find their work. It felt like you were in on this secret world. I have thought about that a lot. Anyway, so working with artists is very important to us, whether it be Scott Treleaven or Richard Misrach. David Altmejd is an artist I’ve admired for years, and in the studio I bring a lot of work to put up or look at. His work was there, it just felt somehow huge and intimate. It fit the themes in this weird way. The cover piece is titled “The Eye” and is very threatening, though it is beautiful.
Steven: Just to add to that, the sculpture on the cover is both vibrant and grim at the same time, there is still a hint of decay and chaos to it. If you look closely you’ll notice it’s not as pristine as one might think from a distance.
You seem to put a lot of time and thought into your music videos too. My favourite is the video for ‘Exiting the Hall of Vapor and Light’; again, the visuals really complement the sound. The images in this video remind me of some of Terence’s solo exhibitions (Terence Hannum – multi-instrumentalist and vocalist for Locrian – is also a visual artist: http://www.terencehannum.com/). What’s the relationship between the videos and the music? Is the visual side always born from a response to the music or is it ever the other way around; do you ever have a visual idea that leads to sound?
Terence: Well, just like the cover art, it all has to fit together; we tend to work with video artists. People who maybe aren’t making necessarily narrative films, but things that get installed or projected. I think pretty visually, so yeah, I tend to see something and then create. Like a landscape in my mind, and then try and capture that in a riff.
You have released some very exciting collaborations and splits with other artists. Most notable for me were the release with Mamiffer and the release with Horseback. How did these collaborations come about and what do you look for in someone’s music when thinking about collaborating?
André: We look for artists who will help us to challenge ourselves and our ideas.
Terence: Sometimes the bands ask us, sometimes a label has the idea. It’s all different, but we just look for people doing interesting things.
Steven: Agreed. For the most part it’s friendship-based, and wanting to work with musicians we admire. Putting us in a situation where we really have to think outside our comfort zone is very important as well. We like a good challenge.
What’s next for you guys?
André: West Coast US tour in August. I can’t wait.
Terence: Europe in 2016 and some new recording.
Steven: Europe in January 2016, possibly another collaboration, and a new recording, or two. We will be celebrating Locrian’s 10th Anniversary in November, here in Chicago, with a special night of music and art. There’ll be more info on that in the coming months