Of Ages and Origins

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A stalwart of the Chicago doom/death metal scene for over a decade, Novembers Doom raised some eyebrows with their last 2 albums; 2007s The Novella Reservoir and 2009s Into Nights Infernal Requiem. The band injected more pure and aggressive death metal into their melancholy laced sound, with surprisingly brutal results. However with their latest release, Aphotic, the band appears to have returned to their doomier, sadder and more tempered releases of their first 5 albums. So while casually Facebook chatting with Novembers Doom drummer and fellow metalreview.com writer Sasha Horn a full fledged interview sort of evolved. And here is the subsequent impromptu result….

So, interesting that you guys went back more to the earlier doomier melancholy stuff…

Yeah. It wasn’t a conscious choice to do so. We just wanted to let Into Nights Requiem Infernal, the previous album, be a bookend of sorts and head in a different direction. We did feel that, in the end, it resulted in a throwback to the days of old, but it still felt like something fresh and new to us as well. Sort of a launching point into newer territories that we want to explore on the next album.

I dig it- as I always liked the earlier stuff. Is having These Are They as a pure dm outlet anything to do with the softer approach on new Novembers Doom?

I don’t think so… at least on my side of things. I could see that being true for Paul, though. If These Are They didn’t exist, I could easily see Paul opting for a more ‘brutal’ sound in Novembers Doom.

These Are They was birthed from Paul wanting to reunite with original Novembers Doom guitarist, Steve Nicholson, to create a throwback to the projects of their youth: old-school, Chicago style Death Metal. Paul obviously felt that it was time to reconnect with that genre, and I’ve been more than happy to be an accomplice, since I’m always game for hitting things with sticks in the name of death, so if These Are They didn’t exist as an outlet for that, I’m willing to bet that the more full-on Death Metal sound would make its way into the Novembers Doom formula. And it’s not as if Paul has a stranglehold on the Novembers Doom writing process, either. Everyone in the band is a die-hard fan of Death Metal, I suppose with nudging, we’d all succumb to the infection. But I see the turn we took with Aphotic to be the right one. I don’t think that any fans could’ve seen that coming. To fall back and retreat into Death Metal would have been too easy, and expected.

The songwriting process for Aphotic really flowed. Whatever came out, came out. And then we defined it, and just let it be.

How did you get involved with both bands- what bands did you come from?

My involvement in Novembers Doom goes back to ’99. One of my best friends growing up worked with a girl named Mary Bielich, who was Novembers Doom ‘s bassist at the time. I guess she had been stressing about Novembers Doom needing a drummer and made no secret of it, nor should she have, because they had to get into the studio that next week to record Of Sculptured Ivy and Stone Flowers, and there had been some issues with their drummer at the time that resulted in them being left with only half of a rhythm section. My friend spoke up, connected Mary and I, and we agreed to give it a shot. From there, myself and the rest of the band at that time got together, got along, and went in for a few practices before it was time for me to join them in the studio to record Of Sculptured Ivy. So it was an intense situation!

I recorded that album to everyone’s satisfaction, and was asked to come on as a full-time member. I respectfully declined. At that time I was playing in a rock band that I could have sworn would take over the world. Whoops! We never did! Oh well… To each his own. I did, however, get another crack at Novembers Doom when I got a phone call from Paul a few years ago, and pretty much said what he said ten years prior. Off and on, Paul and I had been talking about playing together again someday, so things do have a way of coming full circle. I don’t think I would’ve done anything different in terms of the choices I made… This is the absolute best line-up that the band has ever seen. And it was the obvious next step to join These Are They. It was a pretty cut-and-dry situation: They had just recently signed a deal with The End Records, then lost their drummer, and couldn’t find anyone. I couldn’t take hearing Paul bitch about it anymore! So I pretty much said, “Hey, guess what… I’ll do it.” Honestly, I think Paul complained about it non-stop on purpose. Until it drove me crazy enough to offer up my services. I think he would’ve felt bad for asking me to join. At that time, which was early on in my rejoining Novembers Doom, I was juggling about 4 bands. I’m an addict.

As far as prior bands… Well, I always consider myself having come from Novembers Doom. But having been born and raised a drummer (dad played drums, grandpa played drums), I hit the club scene in Chicago when I was 13, playing in punk and hardcore bands. At that same time, Thrash Metal was something that I played with my friends from the neighborhood, but it never became serious enough to take out to the clubs. From there, Metal was always a mainstay, but life guided me toward other forms of music; funk, jazz, electro-stuff, hip-hop, power-pop, ‘shoegaze’, marching band… You name it and at some point I sat behind the kit for it. And gladly. Taking influence from all sectors is priceless. Metal has consumed my time over the last five or six years, but I refuse to do only that.

How hard is it being in (two) actual bands as well as being an internet reviewer writer? How do separate being a musician and a unbiased music critic?

Put it this way… My wife was never a big fan of Metal, and now she’s even less of one! Being in two bands can be hectic, but the thing with These Are They is that we try to keep it, first and foremost, FUN. That project isn’t about world domination, it’s about two guys that grew up together rekindling the spark that started the fire, and with that, about finding the right people to help hold that torch high, meaning that particular style had to be played like a sixth sense, so that we can do things like practice once every week, or even every other week, and always be in the pocket; have everything right on point, all of the time. It never interferes with Novembers Doom practices, touring, recording, etc., so it’s easy to be a part of These Are They and Novembers Doom, and not go postal. Of course, the fact that I fairly recently moved thousands of miles away doesn’t help the cause, but it does strengthen that internal bond. You can’t fuck with that kind of connection.

But to hone in on your question, about staying unbiased, it’s actually harder to be a ‘journalist’ when trying to just plain be a ‘musician’ at the same time. Novembers Doom and These Are They do not cloud my judgment or anything like that. It’s more a thing of avoiding playing the judge and jury while wearing the “pretentious musician’s” hat! No, not that difficult really… I’d like to think of myself as my own worst critic when it comes to my playing, so it would be impossible for me to ever be a pompous, asshole drummer. But growing up putting all forms of music under the microscope, just because that’s how I get my kicks, and then having to listen to something for what it is and NOT nitpick at it, dissect it too much… Sometimes that’s hard to do. But I never, ever hold court being that guy. I always leave the sharpest knives at the door.

As a member that came in as the band was take a harsher, more death metal approach and as the drummer in These Are They, what are your thoughts on the return to the softer direction and do you enjoy playing the style as well as track from the bands first 3-4 releases?

Ummm… This question could get me in trouble, man!. I absolutely do enjoy playing to the softer strengths of Novembers Doom, mostly because of my upbringing with the aforementioned styles; I value that well-roundedness in my playing. If anything, playing the These Are They stuff makes heading toward that more subdued side of Novembers Doom an even more fun journey. Smashing my drums into oblivion for These Are They actually gives oxygen to the ‘lighter’ side of Novembers Doom, just as Novembers Doom gives me pause and cranks me up for that other, more brutal form. It’s a wicked yin and yang effect.

As for material from Novembers Doom earlier releases? It’s solid and quality, but my heart goes out to the later albums. Even when I recorded for Of Sculptured Ivy, part of the reason that I made the decision to not take on the drummer’s throne permanently, was that I just wasn’t much a fan of that style back then. Anything that I did Metal-related had to be epileptic. I couldn’t appreciate, fully, the more ‘gothic’, morose, slow-bleed side of things. Now that I’m older and I’ve blown my wad countless times, I can actually go back and listen, and have a better understanding of it all. And I do regret passing up the opportunity to stick with ’em, because the band has grown into a fucking beast, but at the end of the day I’m just glad that I’ve helped shape this machine. That makes me feel good.

Which band are you involved in the most song writing with? I get the impression that Novembers Doom is Paul’s baby, especially lyrically.

I’d say that it’s actually about equal, as far as my input into both These Are They and Novembers Doom. There’s usually a kind of formula that seems to work best where the guitarists bring their ideas into the practice room, and from there I can have my way with their preconceived structures. Things always start to morph when the amps go on and the drums create the backbone that isn’t there when these guys are at home shedding. Everybody has input equally as far as rhythmic ideas, but I digest those suggestions, chew them up, and spit them out a combination of what they had in their heads along with my initial response. From there, we always record these ‘first drafts’, take them home, study them, and work out the kinks until they fit our ideas of ‘perfection’.

Novembers Doom is without a doubt Paul’s baby, and he is very much the force lyrically. But musically, and with arrangements, Larry and Vito are the bright lights, with the creation process taking shape very much like how I explained in that first answer. However, this time around, things took a different course…

Aphotic was the first time in this band’s history where everyone in that room had ideas and input, equally. And we didn’t succumb to ‘hierarchies’, if you will. I know that sounds bad, but I guess what I mean is that we made a conscious decision to break an old, strong tradition, and we loved the end result. We even did things like (and it doesn’t sound like an earth-shattering concept or anything, but it was uncharted territory for us) Larry and I getting together as a dynamic duo of sorts, where I’d sit behind the kit and Larry would be standing in front of his amp and we’d take a few minutes to explain how we felt musically at that very moment, even if those feelings seemed to cause a kind of musical ‘friction’. Then we would try to personify that. That’s always fun. “Harvest Scythe” and “Shadow Play” were created this way. Just spur of the moment, gut-reactions that we hammered out until we felt that we had the best of both worlds.

Is it handy having an in with a label like the End records with Paul go so far back and being involved with label employee Tomer Pink for so long and even in a band with him (Subterranean Masquerade)- I’m guessing there’s not much bullshit when trying to get a deal done?

No, not much bullshit when trying to get a deal done. We know what to expect of The End and The End knows what to expect of us. Each and every person in this band has a pretty complicated lifestyle, be it work, newborn children, chronic illness, or a drummer that lives 1,345 miles away (whoops!). We do everything that we can do, around everything that we have to do, in order to get the job done. The End Records knows this, they respect this, and they help us where and when we need it.

What’s it like being on such an avant-garde once revered and now slightly unpredictable label? You are side by side the likes of Sigh and Winds but also the likes of Tub ring, the 69 eyes, The Answer and Gorgeous Frankenstein.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been asked this. And to be honest, I actually enjoy that fact that I can say Novembers Doom and These Are They are label mates with bands far removed from what we do. From the perspective of one who enjoys, in my opinion, all things ‘just plain good’, being shoulder-to-shoulder with artists like Art Brut, 69 Eyes, and Juliette Lewis is exciting. We still have brethren there like Laethora, the aforementioned Winds, and Anathema, so there’s a good balance within that wide spectrum. How this polar-opposite roster sits with the general public, I’m not exactly sure, but as an artist signed to the label, it’s a breath of fresh air, and I think that it actually draws more attention to the ‘darker’ side of The End… Again, the yin and yang effect coming into play.

How did Anneke and Dan Swano get involved -obviously Anneke’s solo project  is on The End and Dan mixed and mastered, but when did it become apparent they would actually lend their voices?

Anneke and Paul have been good friends for years. Going back to our approaching the songwriting for Aphotic from a different angle, we did feel like injecting another ‘ballad’ into the mix, but we didn’t want to structure it like we’d done in the past. So we stripped our ideas down to the bare minimum, ironed them out completely until you are left with only voice and guitar. We toyed with the idea of adding in percussion, but then abandoned that pretty early on to achieve a more ‘organic’ feel. Once it was written, we discussed what other materials could be added, but those that would not weigh too heavily on the feel we’d achieved. We decided on the violin and a female voice. Not just any violinist. Not just any female voice. “What Could Have Been” had to be accompanied by world-renowned classical violinist, Rachel Barton Pine, and that secondary voice to accompany Paul’s would absolutely have to be Anneke, or it just wouldn’t work. Those of you familiar with what Anneke is capable of, know the distinct quality with which she goes on record. The end result, I feel, flirts with the ‘overflow’; takes the listener right up to the edge of that cliff without going for the push. I love that negative space where you can almost feel the drop-off, but it never comes. That always makes me want to listen to it more!

Dan has worked on several of our albums, and I guess it’s gotten to the point where he feels so comfortable with the material that he’s willing to take liberties… Thank God!!! Dan lending his backing growls to “Of Age and Origin – Part 1” was not planned. He and Paul  were going back and forth about vocal ideas/effects for that particular section of the song, but not quite nailing it. So upon getting one of the mixes back, there suddenly appeared one Dan Swano on the mic! Quite a nice surprise. We were all giddy and kiddish about it, and last but not least, it sounded fantastic. THAT, was exactly the additive that we were searching for

Any parting words for the Teeth of the Divine Faithful?
Before I’m outta here, I’d like to extend a big THANK YOU to you Erik and Teeth of the Divine for taking the interest and time in interviewing me, and of course the biggest of ‘Thank Yous’ to all These Are They and Novembers Doom fans. As cliche as it sounds, it’s oh-so true that your constant and unwavering support never ceases to amaze us, and it fuels the fire time and time again. This is the part where I say something ‘Metal’…. Nuclear. Assault.


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