John, Don, and Jason talk 'The Mantle' (2002), Portland, and a strange legacy.
Words by Jake Sanders (@themetalscholar):
Additional words by Tyson Tillotson (@tytilly)
In constructing a retrospective that focused on one of the finest examples of extreme music, it occurred to me that there were only so many things that could be said about the album in my words. I have endless amounts to say about The Mantle.
There are constant reminders of why it's important, but I'm only a fan, and with the history of its construction being so limited, the realization that the story was left incomplete struck me with a grim reality. There were gaps in the sequence — holes, that without the proper context behind them, would be lost to obscurity. So it fell to me to do the only responsible thing a fan, and scholar could hope for:
I had to talk to Agalloch.
What followed were nearly two hours of Zoom calls, all made possible by John Haughm, Don Anderson, and Jason William Walton.
The three permanent fixtures of the Agalloch formula sat down for an evening of revelry, and enlightening folklore, that would slake my thirst for the unattainable knowledge I so desired. I had heard the tales; These guys are way ahead of you. They're not interested in journalism drivel. They don't want to re-hash anything that has already been brought to them. It had to be done right, and the following transcript proves only the obvious — that they are simply three friends with a long history of creation. The three gentlemen I met were precisely who I hoped to engage with; three music die-hards who have seen it all, done it all, and are just turning the page to something new and exciting.
With my pretentious, over-the-top questions in hand, and armed with a set of Tyson Tillotson's finest to supplement my own, I discovered the wit, the candor, and the inspiration of the legends who I could finally take off their pedestals I had built for them, and meet them eye-to-eye, in the field of inquiry. What I received, was so much more than I could've ever hoped for. Dive in:
Jake: Gentlemen! On behalf of Heaviest of Art, thank you so much! We are die-hards, and academic about it, for the most part, but we can't help but gush a little, some days. Our first set of questions are from Tyson (Tillotson). We're gonna go round-robin — if anybody knows the answer, and the person receiving the question would like to pass it off, I see nothing wrong with that.
Tyson: Even though you guys had acknowledged that Ulver, and Empyrium did beat you to the punch in combining Black Metal, with folk music a little bit before hand, what was it about what you guys had in mind, that you felt so strongly to push the folk elements further than what was presented on Pale Folklore?
John: I think we just didn't care about adhering to the sort of scene norms, or expectations that we had. After Pale Folkore, I think we felt like we wanted to do something drastically different — for our own sake, really — and we were kind of taking a break from metal, at the time.
So, we were diving into a lot of uncharted territories as listeners, as well as musicians, and creators. That's really where that came from. Don — do you remember us having a distinct plan to make it more ‘folk-y’? I don't think so.
Don: Only in a technical sense, in that, we were all fans of Empyrium, and Ulver. Technique-wise it's a very classical guitar finger-picking style, which was always sort of traditional, in Heavy Metal, and Black Metal. But it wasn't until I heard Death In June's But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter?, that I heard open-strumming folk guitar, which I've always associated with camping, and ‘Kum ba ya’.
I didn't think of it as ‘dark’, and I heard that record, and it's one of the darkest records ever released, in my opinion. That changed everything, so the acoustic guitars on The Mantle, and obviously the Sol Invictus cover that came before it, showcases that kind of acoustic guitar approach.
I didn't really hear bands strumming like they're playing dark country music, in Heavy Metal. It was always classical finger-picking stuff, like Yngwie Malmsteen in the eighties, Mercyful Fate, even Metallica's opening to ‘Fight Fire With Fire’.
It was very common to do that style. So, there was that conscious effort, that once we heard Death In June, and Sol Invictus, we were like, "Can we do that? And combine that with Black Metal?" That was the only kind of conscious thing, just the technique was different.
John: I think I heard that style of strumming on the first Pyogenesis E.P. (Waves of Erotasia, 1994), on the third song.
Jason: I think you're right, John.
John: In the chorus of the first song! It's kind of got that same sort of setup. But I mean — they didn't make it their style. It was just a flourish, for them.
Jason: It's just like a little section.
Jake (Tyson): As an addendum on that, Ty wanted me to hit whoever brought up Death in June first; even though you guys had done a cover of ‘Kneel to the Cross’, did the thought of potentially covering a Death In June song cross your minds, seeing as how ‘A Celebration for the Death of Man’ has a similar opening chord structure to DIJ's ‘Fall Apart’?
Don: It *does* have a similar chord progression.
The reason we did the Sol Invictus was — I don't
remember the specifics — but we were going to be on a Sol Invictus tribute album. So that cover originally appears on a tribute record to Sol Invictus. It wasn't even a specific choice for us. It was for a compilation, and that's how it came about.
Jake: That makes so much more sense. Although I guarantee if you had done Death In June, you probably would've wiped the floor with that one. There's so many covers that I hear and go, "They Black Sabbath'd it. They did ‘Warning’ [originally by Aynsley Dunbar] and now we've forgotten about the original, almost."
John: There's a band called Ikon — a gothic rock band. They did a cover of ‘Fall Apart’, and it's fantastic!
Don: It's really fantastic.
John: I like it better than the original.
Jake (Tyson): So... Jason. What was the then-current dissatisfaction with what was going on in the metal scene, in 2001, and 2002?
Jason: *laughs* Oh geez. Well, I think at that point I'd been listening to extreme metal for quite a long time, and I would even extend it back to the mid to late 90's; It seemed like bands were really losing inspiration. Long running Death Metal, and Black Metal bands were losing inspiration, and the newer bands weren't as interesting.
Things were getting a little bit more polished. It's really hard to pinpoint one point in time, but for me — it felt like a real lull, in creativity, inspiration, and productions were just really becoming gutless. For maybe a good ten years or so, I just wasn't finding anything, metal-wise, that I was really enjoying. Now I'm finding a lot more bands that I like, but back then, for whatever reason, it just was not a good time for extreme metal.
I remember one of the first records I heard that I was just really disappointed with, was In Flames' ‘Clayman’.
*Amusement from John, and Don, shock from Jake*
John: Why did you even bother?! *laughs*
Don: What about Whoracle? I gave up on Whoracle!
Jason: Oh yeah — WHORACLE! That's what I meant! I forgot Whoracle.
John: Oh, okay. It makes sense now! *laughs*
Jason: I was thinking, *tracks IF catalogue* Jester Race? Whoracle? Clayman? Naw. Whoracle was one of the first things I remember being excited about, and being completely crestfallen by it.
John: *rhyming* Whoracle is horrible!
Jason: It's horrible, yeah.
Jake: If you guys were anybody else, I would pull out the In Flames thesis I have written over here, where it's the degradation of all their sound as the years go on. And I'm forced to defend Whoracle, based on [figurative] religious purposes for me — In Flames, once upon a time, was the gate for me to get back into all this [extreme metal]. You're not wrong.
Jason: They weren't the only one, of course, but they were one of the first ones I remember thinking, "this is total garbage." It even showed in a lot of the album covers.
Things would be these computer generated, bullshit covers. So many things before that were beautiful paintings, or interesting photographs, and just seemed like everything was cookie-cutter, and mass-produced. I feel like, maybe, in the mid-2000's we started getting out of that a little bit, but I feel like it lasted for a long time.
Jake: *sarcastically* Are you telling me you did NOT love Iron Maiden's ‘Dance of Death’?
Jason: *grins* That's not a question for me; that's a question for Don, or John.
John: Let's be fair — the cover to Pale Folklore is not really that interesting.
Jason: Well, no — but it sets a nice tone. It's not like some demon flying out of hell, with some... *trails off, laughs*
Jake: *points at Wooden Box* It's this. Right here. You're looking at the wood knots on aged furniture. Who doesn't like that? I'm biased, though.
Jason: Well, that's actual wood, too. Heh.
Jake: Yeah, I cheated. I bought her. I just about had to strangle someone to get that damn thing. If it catches fire in here tomorrow, this thing comes out first.
Next up — Don: as a guitarist who played a mostly metal style on Pale Folklore, was there any bit of a challenge changing over to playing more of these sweeping post-rock types of suites, as well as playing the now-infamous Blues solo [The Hawthorne Passage]. In other words, did it seem like there was a lot of recontextualization when it came to recording your parts of the album?
Don: Certainly, to a degree. I started playing guitar around nine, and I was very fortunate to have supportive, encouraging parents who put me into guitar lessons. So, I studied learning blues licks, and studied with a Jazz guy.
I cut my teeth with your standard sort of blues licks, and things like this. I learned a little bit of everything classical, but the whole time I was learning classical, blues, and jazz stuff, I was always playing along to Metallica records, as well. Trying to shred like Malmsteen, and Steve Vai. It wasn't hard to turn that over, cause that's my background in a lot of ways, but, I remember it was one of those moments where it felt like we were really push things too far, and people were going to recoil in horror.
It was the blues solo in Hawthorne. It was also the piano in Hawthorne... which verges on Honky-Tonk.
*John and Jason laugh*
Jake: Nothing wrong with that, by the way!
Don: I'm also a huge Pink Floyd fan, so anytime I do a reverse bend on a guitar, that's a Gilmour nod. I can't speak for Jason, but John and I were spending a lot of time together, because we were doing all of the guitars, listening to a lot of singer/songwriters. Nick Cave, the Neil Young soundtrack to Dead Man was a huge influence, and I totally lifted it for the lick in Hawthorne.
That's from the soundtrack. So, I wasn't nervous, but I was excited that maybe it was a little provocative to start playing that way. In fact, when I started teaching guitar lessons, most of my students were Agalloch fans, but all of 'em wanted to learn guitar solos like ‘Into the Painted Grey’. And I had a couple students who were super shred-holics, and all they cared about was shredding. I forced both of them to learn the solo to Hawthorne, and this is a lesson I learned — it's that "you play too many notes. You've gotta learn to play less notes. See how that is," and they just struggle.
It's harder to play less, and restrained, to get the most out of each note. Some of the most brilliant guitar players are the ones who play the least, and get the most out of each note, and just shape it with their fingers. That's really hard. If I try to do the Hawthorne solo, and really try to put 100% effort in each note, that's a lot of work.
When you're doing a run, or a shred solo like ‘Painted Grey’, not every note matters, ultimately. They go by too quick, so that's the challenge, I think.
Jake: It's the Jimi appeal. When you start hearing Hendrix play the national anthem, it doesn't matter which note he was on, the sustain is what people are clapping for. They wanna hear him bend it a bit.
Jake (Tyson): And as a last question from Ty, here: Despite his departure from the band, what was Shane Breyer's first impression when he heard the record?
John: He thought we were pretentious assholes!
John: He was pissed off that we used the Spanish sample, and the Swedish samples. He was just like, "what the fuck are you guys thinking?" He thought that was the most pretentious thing that he's ever heard of. I think to this day he probably still thinks that, too.
Jake: That's incredible.
Jason: Yeah, he wasn't into the film samples. He thought they were super pretentious, and that we were trying to do too much stuff at once. He thought the extra instruments, like the accordion, and things like that, were superfluous — didn't matter. He thought were trying to bite off more than we could chew.
Jake: I would say, I think he bet on the wrong pony on that.
Don: The dubbed voices from Max Von Sydow are pretty terrible, right? I remember when we lifted that sample we did listen to the English dub version, he's like, *mocking monotone* "I am Death. Who are you?" *laughs*
John: In our early shows, we used that as an intro, but we used the English version.
Don: That's right, we did.
Jake: When you transfer that language from the German [sic], to the English, Von Sydow has a distinct voice, and after hearing both, I'd rather hear it in German, every time. I get excited. You've biased me, because when I hear that at the Hawthorne kick — I call that the ‘Cascadian Ode to Joy’ — that German quote is what sets that off.
John: That's Swedish, actually.
Jake: *scribbling* Swedish! I'm sorry, Swedish. But it just perfectly bookends that after the end of the bridge rattling sample. I tried to get that too, on my tour of Portland. I tried to get the right part on the bridge to hear the cable rattling. I missed that! I'm not sure how I did!
John: You have to stand *underneath* the Hawthorne Bridge. I captured that sample literally underneath the Hawthorne Bridge, with a video camera. That's how I got that sample.
Jake: I think I just hit it at the wrong time.
John: The sounds are just cars going over the sections of the bridge. It raises up, so it's in different sections — you hear the cars going over the thresholds. *mimics the sound of cars hitting segmented concrete partitions*
Jake: Exactly. I hit at a Sunday night, around one A.M., and I think I just missed the rush of cars giving that, because there was nobody there.
John: Gotta do it around rush hour!
Jake: Yes. I appreciate y'all answering Ty's stuff. If he could've been here to bug you about it, he would've loved it. Mine are individualized, so let's play with it, shall we?
Starting off here, for Jason: For years you've been cultivating your art as an electronic artist and your success has grown. It would seem that the coalescence of that, with your Agalloch works have gained a lot of steam since their initial release. Works that were once dismissed by critics as ‘unnecessary remakes’ of existing tracks are now seeing that fans have found a lot of value out of The Grey, The White, and electronic elements introduced in the subsequent albums in your discography.
With metal artists now embracing the independence of electronic music in this scene (Joel Grind, Teloch from Mayhem, Brett and Joe from Pallbearer, and especially the technical death metal community — they're eating it up right now), do you feel vindicated for your experimental efforts early on? Were there any other tracks/albums that you felt deserved their own "remix/re-build?"
Jason: ... Okay. That's a pretty long question. Number one: my ‘electronic input’ into Agalloch was extremely small. I can think of just the Odal remix, and that's it.
John: Odal! On The Mantle, you did the transition piece for Odal!
Jason: Did I? I don't remember that.
John: That noise that connects the two songs at the end.
Jason: Oh yeah! Okay. But still, very, very minor in the grand scheme of things. Chris Greene did way more electronic stuff than I did, as well as Shane. As far as vindication — that's not really how my mind works. I don't really think about that.
I've been doing forms of experimental electronic music for almost thirty years, or so. I am seeing a little bit of those type of things getting more popularity, but I feel like the stuff that I'm seeing become popular, is so vastly different from what I do, and what I'm into, I don't think it's really the same. I think it's comparing apples, and oranges.
I see a lot of bands like Carpenter Brut, and Perturbator, and bands like that getting a lot of popularity, but again — that's completely different than what I'm doing. Even calling what I do ‘electronic’, I have problems with.
It evokes things like techno, or dance, or bands like ADULT. It's completely different than what I do. I work with tape manipulation. I work with oscillators. Most of my stuff is improv. I'm coming way more from the noise scene, than any kind of electronic scene. I think that my stuff has been fairly popular the last couple of years, but I think it's also because I've been putting a lot more of myself into it, and taking it a lot more seriously.
My last record, MoonBladder, did extremely well, and I'm really proud of it. But still, it's not something that's gonna be as popular as Timewave Zero. I just feel like I'm still very separate from all those things you're mentioning, so it's hard for me to comment on that.
Jake: In fairness, too, I think Blood Incantation is getting a little bit of a battering about that right now, too.
Jake: People were happy to get more material, but they got slaughtered by reviews. People were like, "What IS this? This isn't Blood incantation!" But I think years from now they'll realize it didn't really need to be. It needed to be the essence of who they were, with the essence of the electronic they were trying to embrace. Which is why that works for Agalloch.
Jason: Yeah — maybe. I like the record. I guess, at this point in time, I care so little about what people think about stuff. I wanna release records, and I want people to like 'em, but I also don't really think about it that much. Like I said, MoonBladder did well. I hope my next record does well. But I don't like to compare myself to others. A lot of people I didn't even know. I had no idea Pallbearer were doing electronic music! But I just don't give a shit!
John: *laughs* Classic Agalloch attitude!
Jake: True. That's why I've always liked your interviews, dude. You've been hilariously blunt in interviews, and so many interviewers are intimidated by that. But I love that — it means you're gonna tell me the truth for once, and not jerk me off over it.
Jason: Well, part of it too is that I come from a noise background. I feel like it's completely separate than a lot of that stuff. So if you're gonna talk to me about Brighter Death Now, or Slogun, or even like Clipping, I'm all over it. This other stuff, I just don't know anything about.
Jake: That's fair.
So Don, you've stated in the past that it's “impossible to step outside oneself and be objective about one's art.” But, having been a younger man when you were quoted as saying that, has your opinion changed at all? Can you be objective looking back two decades? Can you now retroactively see the academic worth of your own discography?
Don: I do think many, many years make a big difference. There's times when I can't remember if I played a particular part on a certain record, or not. Things do start to sort of recede from my memory.
When I finished ‘Liminal Phase’, I did go back and listen to the first Sculptured records, which I did when I was like fifteen, or sixteen. So they are very, very old to me. I don't think I can ever achieve pure objectivity. I'm the type of person that when I finish a record, I just wanna start the next one. I'm a workaholic. I like doing the work.
I've been thinking about this interview, and thinking about The Mantle, and what it means to me. I have to be honest — I mean, we did it. But I'm always thinking about the next record. I think that's probably how the other guys might work too. When a record comes out, I listen to it a lot, and I'm proud of it. It's a great experience, but then I'm already writing for the next one. I don't spend a lot of time on whatever recent work I may have been fortunate enough to complete.
But I think after many, many, many, years. The first Sculptured record came out in '98, or so. The demo came out in '96, so it's a long time ago. So, there's some objectivity there, but I still feel pretty close to it.
Jake: Fair enough. Not to mention, you guys are catching fire again with new Sculptured work, so thank you for that, by the way.
Don: Yeah, the next one is already done. I just can't wait.
Jake: John — In the ‘Silence of Forgotten Landscapes’ — you state The Mantle represents as an album, the sound to a journey that begins at Crown Point, and travels down the road towards Mt. Hood. With that in mind, does that mean that the various tracks represent real-life landmarks that are directly, or indirectly themed and are chronologically discoverable on a single A to Z point route?
John: *thinks carefully for a significant amount of time* ... Yeah.
Jason: Good answer!!
Jake: Well... shit. Now you're fuckin' with my head, because if I have to go back to Portland to go re-drive that to figure out what that is, it's gonna hurt me and my wallet.
John: Yeah, it was a route that I'd always take, for fun. Go to Mt. Hood, go to Timberline Lodge, have some beers, have some food, and take in some nature. I would do that on a Saturday, or whatever, and I guess there's a lot of memories that came from that. I'd think about music a lot on those trips. I'd come up with riffs in my head.
There are certain places that remind me of certain riffs on The Mantle. The Lodge was literally written the day after 9/11! To get away from the news, and everything, I just left for the day on the twelfth, and went up to Timberline Lodge just to chill out, and of course they had a big TV with the news on up there!
Jake: Of course.
John: I just went for a hike, and I thought of that riff. Later that night, I went home and wrote that song, that night. It wasn't something that was planned to be on the album. It was a spontaneous thing that came from that trip, that day.
So yeah — it definitely has some personal meaning, for sure. That's why that band photo was taken at Crown Point, why the Hawthorne Bridge is part of the album; it's all tied in. The Elk statue used to be, when you go across the Hawthorne Bridge, you'd keep going straight, you would come up to the Elk statue, as you probably know. You came to Portland, right? Yeah.
Jake: The first time we crossed the bridge, after we left the airport, we're going through Portland, and my girlfriend is pissed. I'm pissed, because our GPS is failing, and right when we get across, I'm like "STOP!" and she says "There's traffic behind us — that's not happening."
John: It's good that you got to see it.
Jake: I was so happy about that. I'm glad I got that, and took the photos. Because now it's in what, storage behind the police department, or city hall?
Jason: Yeah, it's in storage. They said they're gonna put it back next year! In a different location, though.
Jason: They said they're gonna put it in a different location, though, instead of there.
John: I didn't know that. I think if they put it back where it was, it's just gonna get vandalized again.
Jake: I wouldn't doubt it. Not to mention, I would really like them to try and update the fountain, because it's just in disarray. There's chips on it, and nicks everywhere.
John: It's a mound of dirt now, in the middle of the road. *laughs*
Jake: Useful! Next section here.
Jason: Near the end of ‘The Hawthorne Passage,’ the climax to the song at 7:49, is bookended by two samples. One from ‘The Seventh Seal’ (1957), and the second from Jodorowsky's ‘Fando y Lis’ (1968). It starts directly atop its own [provided] sample, of wind, and the rattling of metal beneath the bridge itself.
This section, which I've always felt is the Cascadian Ode to Joy, feels like a rushing stream, and the last winds of autumn turning to bitter cold. How did it come about? How does it work so well, at the end of a song that just does not have the same pace? Where did it develop?
Jason: Well, that's more of a question for John!
John: Yeah, I made that!
Jason: That's part of the whole journey, and John definitely designed that journey.
John: A little history about that song. That song was actually written in 1998. It was something that I wrote for Pale Folklore. When we were going through our goth-y, experimentation phase, with songs like Hallways of Enchanted Ebony, and songs like that. I had written this piece that was another goth-y experiment, and that was the first part of The Hawthorne Passage.
It went untitled for years. And then, I don't know when it came about, but the second half was written, I think, after Don and I went and saw Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I was kind of inspired by that show, and I came up with that main riff, and we just created that second part, and just connected the two with experimental sounds, and quotes. There wasn't a lot of thought that went into it; we just wanted to connect the two pieces and make it somewhat profound.
Another interesting thing about this song, is I kind of wish we never put it on the album.
John: I think it sticks out, as too weird. I agree with Don, that we went too far. I think it would've been better on an E.P., say The Grey, or something? But on The Mantle... I like the song all right. I just think it's kind of oddly placed, and its existence there is kind of strange.
Don: I think it tipped the ratio to making The Mantle an almost instrumental record, altogether.
Don: The Godspeed concert was one of the biggest, for John and I. Jason wasn't with us, then, but that was a profound learning experience. That was 2000, 2001? It was when Lift Your Skinny Fists... came out?
Don: We were slowly getting into that kind of post-rock around that time, but I hadn't seen it performed live yet. I remember watching them play all those tremolo picking melodies — which if you take away all the reverb and delay, you have black metal — and we were like, "that's gonna translate really well. We should try to do some of that kind of stuff."
I think Hawthorne Passage, and a lot of that stuff on Odal is what came from watching that concert, and just watching them play.
Jake: It's funny you should mention that. That was Ty's other question. It was, "Was seeing such a groundbreaking band at the time something that ignited that drive to create a record that was more cinematic in scope like their records?"
John: Well — that, and our love of cinema, and soundtracks. Also, for me, seeing Godspeed You! Black Emperor was a profound experience because, unlike Don, I play guitar like a keyboard. I'm a big U2 fan. I love The Edge, and the period of Rush where he used a lot of effects, and stuff.
I've always been very into effects. I paid attention to the way they were using effects, and the way they were building echo parts, and reverbs, and the way it would come together, and it was almost symphonic. That was really inspiring to me, as well, for that purpose.
Jake: It comes through. GY!BE is something that Ty proselytizes for. He's like, "if you don't appreciate them, you really shouldn't be appreciating Agalloch the way you do. You should know the timeline!!" He can out-pretentious me in that aspect. I've had to take a few lessons about history for you guys, from him.
Don — being the musical theorist, do you subscribe to the notion that musicians carry the idea of a sound signature with them? That is — do certain sound similarities lay in consecutive releases, by the same artist? And can those motifs work as a tell for which artist one is listening to, without having additional contextual evidence?
Don: Yeah, I think that's how you base your real music gift, or talent, is when someone has an identifiable style. Not even just the way they play guitar, or their tone, I think. I remember when I was on Jason's podcast, and he had Mirai from SIGH pick a bunch of things, and all of a sudden this piano piece came on, and I hadn't heard it before, but I had to guess who these artists were, and I immediately said Stravinsky.
He has a particular voice in his music, and no one else sounds like him. I say the same for Aaron Copland, who's another composer I like. It's in the large intervals he uses all the time, that really speaks. You can hear it in drummers, I think, in particular. No one sounds like Dave Lombardo. No one sounds like Neill Peart. No ones sounds like Bill Bruford. I can even hear it with Aesop (Dekker)! I think Aesop is really starting to have a signature sound, too.
I don't know what exactly accounts for that. But I do think, it's so hard to do. When you're young, you just want to be your favorite guitarist, and I wanted to be Yngwie really bad. Even now, sometimes I'll try to mimic it, but once you can let that go *uses hands to signal clarity* — and it's very hard to get over, and let it all go.
Because whenever I watch some new, hip guitarist on instagram, some shredder, any kind of moments of "man, I should go practice," you immediately have to squash it, and be like "I have something I'm doing and I just need to do that, the best that I can do it."
I've said it before too, that John's solos are so identifiable, and so different from mine. That's because we both grab what we do best, and do the best that we can, with that.
Jake: Fair enough. It's funny, you brought up Stravinsky, and when I was listening to Ashes Against the Grain last night, I said the same thing to my friend who I was battering with your work. You can sort of hear Stravinsky's Firebird suite, with the three end-Grain tracks specifically feel very much like The Firebird suite when you get to the end, and I always wondered if y'all did that on purpose.
John: ... Nah.
Don: We've ripped off Steve Reich, cause we're all big minimalist fans, and Arvo Pärt, and composers like that, but definitely not Stravinsky for Agalloch.
Jake: That's fair. You totally could've taken credit right there. I was handing you a hall pass!!
Don: Naw, we've already got the pretentious card, so I don't wanna be like... *nods smugly*
Jason: Yeah, I think we're fine there.
John: I've got mine laminated!
Jake: So John, you've made it known that McMenamins Edgefield was where you wrote A Desolation Song; I saw the photos on your story, along with the other lyrics from The Mantle. So aesthetically, the place is gorgeous, but what makes it creatively conducive? I assume it's like a bar, in a hotel, but were there other areas in, and around Portland that act as a conduit for composition? Do you have more luck writing with a pre-ordained setting, or does it come to you spontaneously?
John: *pauses* ...YES.
Jason: That's a John answer.
John: Honestly, I liked going to that particular place because it's cozy. It's a good place to write lyrics. It has a nice atmosphere — a fireside kind of atmosphere — as you probably experienced. It was really inspiring to go there.
The funny thing about it is, back when I wrote the lyrics to that, you could smoke inside the Little Red Shed. Whenever there were people in there talking, I would just buy a cigar, and I would smoke them out, and then I'd be alone, and IT WAS GREAT! It's just hard to concentrate when there's people talking, and being loud, and stuff.
So it was great to go in there, make everyone leave, and then I'd just write lyrics for a couple of hours with a beer, or some whiskey, or something. That's pretty much how the lyrics to that album came together. It sounds rude, I know! But... *shrugs and laughs*
Don: The reason the Edgefield was so cool was because it always provided a space for people who wanted to indulge in such vices. Now, it's not that at all.
John: *winces* It's made for golfers.
Don: Yeeeeah, you could go there, and smoke a cigar in the Little Red Shed. Now, I think there's way more tourists — no offense — but there's way more out-of-towners, who aren't used to it in Portland, and it was much more open. You could drink all over the grounds, with liqour, or wine.
John: You still can.
Don: You still can, but it's part of the whole thing! It was more free, and more open. That's what I loved about it. I went there first in 1997, and the artwork on the walls had this haunted feel, and I remember just being mesmerized by the place.
I got married there, twice! My favorite joke is "I do all my weddings there."
Don: It was so good, that when I got married a second time — I'm not kidding — we got married at the Edgefield, but it was in a different place! It's a good deal.
John: You know, they have other properties! *laughs*
Jason: *grin* Do the Grand Lodge next time!
Jake: Don — Regarding Mantle adjacent E.P.'s, ‘Tomorrow Will Never Come’ masters the atmosphere of tragedy and suffering through the lens of a man whose own freedom is slowly being taken from him at the hands of state mental health facilities.
I'm not sure how long it's been for you — but I found this clip RECENTLY, in fact — I have the links on YouTube. Someone has fragmented it, and I'm not sure if it's for academic purposes or not. But they have them saved on a documentary in several parts for each person on Neurosplicers' channel. And watching that guy, Gerald, and his life, as well as the lives of his parents slowly turn chaotic is heart-wrenching. It's incredibly fucked up, with a tic as bad as pulling out his hair all day long.
Having once been driven by those in their own mental health crises, and being aware of the current options for those experiencing declining psychological stability, do you believe the country has made strides to improve its infrastructure in the past twenty years? What are your thoughts on the U.S.'s recent implementation of the 988 hotline as an express lane to support?
*Jason and John laugh*
Don: Gooood question. But you know my wife is a therapist, so I do have a connection. Here's what I can definitely comment on, being a teacher at a community college. Mental health has been much more de-stigmatized. My students talk very freely about it. They can't make an office hour because they're with their therapist, or something. They write much more openly than ever, about it. It's much more talked about in open company, even, that I've noticed in my classes, and with my students in particular.
So I know there's a major generational shift that has helped make that kind of a difference. I'm not convinced that our country has really done as much as it can. We're not a rehabilitating country — whether that's for people who have committed crimes, where they just go to prison and become more hardened — or people who can't receive the help they need because their health insurance doesn't recognize mental health as something that needs treatment.
That documentary — I did find it on YouTube, because I have been curious about it. I watched that in a science/psychology class way back in 2000, maybe, and I was so deeply moved by it, so in order to get that sample, I went and borrowed the tape from the professor. that's the way I got it. I still don't know terribly much about it, but I knew the guy's name was Gerald.
It was also a kind of a Godspeed influence of having that kind of nakedness and vulnerability of suffering, and struggle being very real, and presented in that way. I certainly didn't mean it to be exploitative in any kind of way. When I did play that song live when I was doing solo live shows, for Agalloch, when I was exploiting our own band *laughs*, I would always dedicate it as a song for Gerald. I don't know if anyone ever got it.
Jake: Some people have heard that, yes.
Don: I felt a great deal of compassion, and empathy, and felt it was really moving. Listening to him yell at his father like that... it really moved me. That's the story of that.
I actually gave the professor a copy of the seven-inch when it came out. I'm sure he thought it was weird. "Why are we pressing vinyl in 2000? Here comes an old 45!" *laughs* He was probably really shocked.
Jake: I really liked it. I got that as a gift from a friend on Twitter (Thanks, Ali). He was like, "Hey I have two copies of this. I bought back in 2002, or 2003, or whatever. I know you're a die-hard, you can take this."
It wrecked me. I had to figure out what I could, but I only recently found that clip, two days ago. It's weird.
That guy, I'm sure you know, him and his dad worked for Chrysler. He has this male-aggression thing. Even people he loves, he feels threatened by them on a daily basis. When he goes to sleep, he sees them murdering him. I kind of wonder if that guy knows that he was immortalized by you, or if he survived — I hope he did.
Don: I don't know.
That was also a big Godspeed thing. I used the screwdriver guitar technique that I saw them do!
Jake: Jason. For years — and now, I guess I'm guilty of this in some aspect — it seemed to me that journalists, magazines, interviewers, and even the fans themselves tried so hard to push you all into the crime of trying to label your group on a hyphenated level of categorization.
Much like the bold stances here, every time you're just like, "I'm not gonna do that. There's no point in labeling myself. Don't put ‘dark neo-folk’ or anything near me. Is it a stretch to imagine that Agalloch possessed such a unique style of music, that for critics searching for a frame of reference on what you were playing, they just wanted to know whose footsteps you were following? Hence the hyphenation?
Jason: I think that's exactly what it was. I'm not gonna say we were so unique that people can't possibly figure out what we're doing, but The Mantle was very unique, and still is unique. I think all Agalloch records are unique in their own way, but it's not like other bands aren't unique, as well.
It's hard to describe accurately any music, or any band, and I think that at worst, music journalism is just trying to grasp at straws to try and figure out how to put things into boxes like that. We've been given all sorts of weird musical genre tags, some more appropriate than others, but really, none of it means anything.
I like ‘Dark Metal’ for Agalloch, but I'm also not a big fan of the word ‘Metal’ for music, either. I've always had a problem with that. I think ‘Dark’ is the thing that makes the most sense with Agalloch, but of course, that's not 100% of the time.
John: I've always hated ‘Grey Metal’.
Jason: I really feel like the only reason we got ‘Grey Metal’ is because of the colors on The Mantle record.
Don: Yeah, black and white film on everything.
Jason: Portland is supposed to be grey, and rainy all the time. All that crap, too.
John: You wouldn't know it from today.
Jason: You wouldn't know it from the last few months, oh my god!
This is nothing new. People have been complaining about this since the dawn of music journalism.
It's kind of an impossible task, and I used to be a music journalist myself, to a certain degree. I finally stopped doing it, because I just felt like I was beating my head against the wall, and what I was doing was ultimately useless, cause there's no way you can accurately describe music.
I think it's just kind of a losing battle, in a lot of ways. I think that's why things like music podcasts are the way of the future, at least for me, as far as music journalism, because you can actually hear t