A brief glimpse inside the minds of the Texas septet and their newest bombshell release.
Those fortunate enough to catch our review will recognize precisely what a group like DEAD TO A DYING WORLD brings to the table; diversity of sound, unexpected bursts of energy, and the strength of composition capable of flooring even the most jaded critics, have coalesced to form their latest, a six-track killer that spells out the doom of our time.
Today, three of the seven have granted us an audience. Joined in a conversation by Sean Mehl, James Magruder, and Eva Vonne, we explore the majesty of their latest release, alongside a few of the elements from their musical community.
In terms of Elegy, and your songwriting in general — is this album the harvest of a long season of methodical, planned out sessions leading up to a masterwork musical
composition? Or is this, as Kerry King would call it, "just the next six songs?"
James - It’s definitely somewhere in the middle for us. We can’t really change what comes out, but it’s not entirely spontaneous. I have ideas I want to try out. I’ve certainly gotten a few side eyes here and there about some of them. I’m surprised the clarinet passages made it in. Largely we have a general idea for the record, and we let that guide us but not to hindrance if something just isn’t working.
Eva - I think the clarinet passages are one of my favorite parts! Much better than the trombone idea…
Sean - One thing that I think is true for all of us is the desire to take risks and push boundaries. Really I cannot fathom making music that is always perfectly content with itself. There will always be bad ideas before the right one takes hold. It’s always a process.
Throughout the album, as well as Litany, there's a pacing to it that seems rather
wholesome for a group of your size. In many albums of larger musical groups, a sort of
competing sound begins to form between larger personalities of each song, and
member. With DtaDW, on both Litany, and Elegy, it's cooperative, often rallying
members two at a time. Is this deliberate, or a consequence of collaborating members with preferences?
Eva - This is actually something that we made a conscious effort to improve on Elegy. Most of Litany was written collaboratively in loud rooms and a lot of nuanced details were easily overlooked because of our writing process. Much of Elegy was written remotely, which meant in some ways it was much harder. However, I was personally able to focus on composition and harmony/melody by repeating things endlessly and really working out parts that complimented what the guitars were doing in a theory-based way instead of trying to stand out in a loud room.
James - We have had issues in the past getting people to work together for an assortment of reasons. In the making of Elegy we had sectionals with smaller groups of members to really focus on coordination and melody.
Thematically, it's impossible to avoid the atavistic messages behind the album. With the Anthropocene being a critical thought that hangs in the air, and the amount of
noteworthy American extreme metal groups now bringing the topic to the forefront of the scene, do you see the metal community becoming more environmentally conscious?
Sean - I don’t know if it’s necessarily reflective of a newfound consciousness or not. I tend to think that far too often bands are focused too much on the aesthetic rather than asking questions.
Being on the Profound Lore roster puts you among a slew of winners from this, and
previous years that are pumping out unforgettable releases back to back. That has to
make you feel confident about the future, right?
Eva - I am truly honored to be a part of the label. I love the roster Profound Lore has curated by putting out challenging and innovative artists. One great example is Lingua Ignota - what a powerful artist.
James - Dylan Desmond from Bell Witch has always been my favorite bassist. What a beast. It’s an honor to be on the same label as him.
Sean - Bruni has been incredibly supportive. His love for music comes from a really genuine place, and it shows. We have found a home surrounded by people who are both our peers and inspiration.
After watching a stellar performance at Southwest Terror Fest 2015, one has to wonder
if anyone feels cramped with so much energy in such a small space? Do you all want the
larger, cavernous venues to give everyone on the stage their own corner? Or are you at
home in the intimate performance scene — mere inches away from excited fans?
Eva - It’s nice to play on large stages. I wish every stage was as beautiful as UT Connewitz in Leipzig, for example, but there is definitely a trade off. When you’re playing small clubs or crowded basements the crowd’s energy is electric and you can connect so much more personally and feed off that. We do need a little more space than the average band though! Seven people is a lot to cram into a small space.
James - These next two tours will have at least eight people on stage with us and we have some small room on the way. As long as the PA system can hang with what we need I’d pick the small room any day. Although, UT Connewitz is magic.
Having been a part of the Texas metal scene for nearly a decade, how has it changed in
James - The DIY component has really faded. Throughout my teens and twenties there were always a handful of great spots in Dallas, Fort Worth, Denton, Austin, and Houston. It really seems to be dying out in Texas. I loved the taco punk years. There are definitely some weirdo dive bars that have filled that void. Maybe I’m just too old now (I hope not), or the Ghost Ship tragedy has had rippling consequences throughout Texas, or kids are just not as willing to wreck a dwelling as we were. I’m not sure.
Sean - I live outside of Texas these days, so I’m far from connected as I used to be. I have hope that a younger generation will build a more vibrant, thriving community again though.
More and more groups are making tour stops in parts of the state of Texas that has gone largely ignored, such as South-West Texas, and the Panhandle. Is there a growing
fanbase out there that thirsts for the music?
James - I think people planning tours are just becoming aware of the vastness of Texas. It’s a ten hour drive from Dallas to El Paso. You might want to split that up. There’s also a growing scene in the Valley or south of San Antonio at large. The punks from down there are making their way out and it’s pretty awesome.
Sean - It’s definitely been awesome to see things really thriving in areas that were often overlooked, such as the McAllen area and other border towns. I think that is largely due to the strong communities of color in the valley, San Antonio, etc. that have really been the driving force of these budding scenes.
As Elegy is such an appealing, and far-reaching benchmark in your catalogue thus far,
are there any influences outside the realm of metal that have shaped the album's sound?
Eva - Together as a band we have a very diverse catalog of influences we draw from. I personally live for dueling guitar solos in a lot of 70's and 80's rock and tried to achieve that in my duets with James. One thing we all consistently agree on is Aphrodite’s Child, and most of us have a heavy education in progressive rock.
James - I guess we listened to more post-rock than I thought. I always love the chaotic song structures of Franco Battiato’s “Foetus,” Eduardo Bort’s self-titled, and, of course the holy grail, Aphrodite’s Child “666.” That shit is magic.
Who would you like to tour with?
James - Fauna, Wardruna, Kate Bush
Eva - If I could see Pinkish Black every night I would be totally happy. But I would settle for the Dio Hologram tour.
Sean - Marissa Nadler, Thor & Friends, Anna von Hausswolff.
What are you listening to currently?
Eva - I can’t stop listening to Vanishing Kids from Madison, Wisconsin. I really have not connected so personally with a band in such a long time - they have this heavy emotional sound, crooning vocals and sick guitar work. It’s like they combined all my favorite things about my favorite genres and put them all together in this tasteful cohesive way.
James - I just got into Bats for Lashes, her last record was incredible. Also just sat down with Heilung and really enjoyed it after being exposed to them by pictures from Roadburn.
Sean - Lately I’ve been rediscovering Coletrane. Otherwise I almost always have Grouper, and Marissa Nadler on repeat. The new Low was a high-point, for sure — ha!
'Reprise' was a tactical victory in returning to previous material. I can personally vouch for how beautiful a pressing it is, how different it is from the source, and with the addition of your cover of "Dance Me to the End Of Love," it's a must have for any collector. Any plans to give 'Litany' a similar treatment, and what made you choose Cohen's "Avalanche" as your next cover? (obvious wink)
Sean - I don’t know that we could add anything to Litany. It’s already long enough! A little known fact is that “Tseena” by They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy was originally recorded during the Litany studio sessions for the album. It was too long to fit without trimming, and it would have been a shame to do so. Ultimately that session spawned the new project, which I released on my own label.
Any message to your fans who waited patiently for four years for the new album?
Sean - Chances are it’ll be another four before the next one. (Not really) We hope not, but our consistent time between records probably speaks for itself. So soak it up!
Heaviest of Art would like to thank Sean, Eva, and James for sharing their thoughts and diving into their apocalyptic new album with us. DEAD TO A DYING WORLD is heading out for a west coast tour at the end of May, including their stop at Northwest Terror Fest. In the meantime, stay up to date on Facebook, and Bandcamp and catch them at the dates below!
5/24 Austin, TX - Beerland 5/25 El Paso, TX - Rockhouse Bar 5/27 Los Angeles, CA - The Resident 5/28 Oakland, CA - Oakland Metro 5/29 Eureka, CA - Siren’s Song Tavern 5/30 Seattle, WA - Northwest Terror Fest 5/31 Boise, ID - Bump HQ 6/01 Salt Lake City, UT - Diabolical Records