The visionary artist from the PNW talks adversity, home, and adapting to change.
Words by Jake Sanders (@themetalscholar):
After a successful tour with 1349 and CLOAK, Oregonian Black Metal outfit UADA returned to the studio to complete their efforts on their third benchmark, a work of lore and musicianship known simply as Djinn. Coming in just under an hour at fifty-nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds, this subtle recording Easter-egg speaks to the significance of one's own personal freedom, a theme that vocalist, and founder Jake Superchi takes quite seriously.
Heaviest of Art had a magical privilege to chat recently with Jake, as the fires were rising in the Western sky, and the smoke closed in around him. Amidst his duties at the helm of multiple projects, packing orders for the countless albums that would need to leave, and trekking the ancient hills of the Cascades, he stopped to reflect on his catalog, hardships, and what it means to be musician in the age of Covid-19:
Greetings Jake! First off — after having a couple chances to chat casually with ya, it's an awesome privilege to be able to finally come (digitally) face-to-face with you on behalf of Heaviest of Art, just a few short weeks before the arrival of your third wish... Djinn. So firstly, let me get this out of the way since it's the elephant in the room: 2020 has been a merciless kind of monster that has taken the shows away from most for the foreseeable future. How has this year treated you, and the group, personally?
Superchi: Likewise, Jacob, it’s great to speak with you again. My pleasure. Yes, 2020 has been a wild ride to say lightly. The lack of shows, and even the ability to rehearse as a full band has been a sort of subconscious strain for me personally. Being able to let everything out through music in a rehearsal and more so, a performance is something I’ve never had to go this long without doing and it’s been interesting. I’ve been constantly grinding my teeth waiting to get back to it, but regardless of this cruel reality I’m keeping myself busy and working just as hard if not harder behind the scenes now. There is always so much work to be done, and being that we were on the road up to 6 or 7 months out of a year on average a lot of things that had been put to the side are now getting finished. So, it isn’t all bad of course and one thing that has been really great is being able to reconnect with the land here. These places that I feel most comfortable and at home were starting to almost feel foreign to me. I’m feeling much better about a lot of things and realizing a lot as well. The path has been an adverse one and I think when we return to the road it will be a much different ride.
Speaking of adversity from the past year; heat strokes in Mexico and detained in Canada! Got any lessons for touring bands who may be unfortunate enough to fall into the same circumstances?
Superchi: Hah! Well, these are just typical things of the road I think, and not even anything that drastic compared to the many that I won’t talk about. Sometimes you just got to laugh at it all though. Touring is much like Spinal Tap in a way. It’s comical if you allow it to be but it can also be a dark road. It — like anything — is all how you allow it to affect you. Others of course are not so good at handling these things, and something like getting arrested in Canada is a bit traumatic, I guess. If there is any advice that I would give to a younger up and coming band looking to set out on the road it would be: Do it because you love it and enjoy it, because if you don’t, it’s going to eat you alive. I mean that is really all I can say. We all have our path, and we all choose to take the roads we do for different reasons. All I can do is be true to myself, my art and my message. Everything else is just noise.
The title of your latest tour stateside was aptly named, "American Black Metal." Over the past year I've made numerous claims that groups such as yours, Falls of Rauros, Panopticon, Cloak, Krallice, Velnias, Wayfarer, Alda, and Wolves in the Throne Room are the examples that are leading the way in what I would call the future of American Black Metal. Each of you represent a different tone, a new theme, a different message, and another perspective that takes the diversity of the States, and shows that the country doesn't stick to a traditional measure of music. There's so much variety in what was once such a limited subgenre, and I attribute that to groups like Agalloch, Absu, Judas Iscariot, Weakling, Leviathan, and Krieg leading the way for others to innovate. The question, however: What does the idea of American Black Metal mean to you?
Superchi: Being American is a way of life and the only one I’ll know. It is innovation, working for yourself, building your own road to take and dedicating your entire existence to it. It’s what this country was founded on; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Although “happiness” seems like a taboo thing to be associated with Black Metal, I think gaining freedom through art is what would adhere to that state of existence, or at least as much as one that walks this path could gain. Authority has never been something I’ve been good with and I have to be able to live my life the way I choose. I have to be free to create in order to gain that freedom, or as close to what we can consider freedom. I’m not sure if this is what the genre entails in other countries, but it seems most are more focused on tradition which makes sense for their culture. Culture here is not so simple nor glorious at that, so I’m not really interested in trying to stay “traditional” for the sake of a genre or the idea of what another man once had. Seems contradictive.
It is no secret though that the American scene is great, underrated, underappreciated and overlooked by most of the world. I understand that Europe has had such a strong scene for so long that they most people look there or prefer those bands. For us to embrace our title as “American Black Metal” now I think is important. What I hope it will do is make people look at the history of bands we have and the current ones continuing forward. It isn’t an easy time in our country to be an extreme band with the rise of cancel culture, entitlement, and authority in which people who don’t want authority all of sudden now want to push it upon everyone else. In this moment taking pride as an American is really looked down upon and paints you into a certain box whether it applies to your beliefs or not. So, I applaud all the bands that are surviving, especially those thriving in the American climates of today. Metal always prevails, though.
Speaking of Alda — was excited to hear they're finished tracking their latest album, 'A Distant Fire'! Tahoma (2011) and Passage (2015) were some of my favorite releases from the past decade, and to see that you're a crew member on board this latest journey with them was a real treat. How was the process, and can we expect greatness from them once more?
Superchi: Ah, it was a treat for me as well. There are a lot of cool bands in the Pacific Northwest, but Alda was one that always stood out to me. They have a feeling, a sound and an energy that hits me every time. They’re also great people which makes it all that much more rewarding for me to work with them.
The album is incredible and I think it’s their best to date, and that is not a biased opinion just because I recorded and mixed it. It’s just a very relevant album to the times and speaks of passion, truth and hardships. The songs are insanely catchy and heartfelt and I catch myself humming the melodies of the album almost daily. Always a good sign. The process was a long one. When we started getting together back in February, I was already working on two other albums, one being the new Uada and another I can’t talk about yet. So, taking on another album, and one that I had to travel a few hours north for every weekend was putting me into some deep waters, work-wise. I’d have it no other way, and although it took some time to be able to finalize the mix with the band, it all went relatively smoothly considering all things.
The album was a first for me on many things, including recording a live drum kit. They also insisted on recording it a certain way which was interesting but worked out well. The first thing we recorded was the drums and since they wanted to record it as if they were playing live, instead of amps bleeding into the drum mics, I had them plug their pedals direct into the board so they could only hear them through headphones. There weren’t any separate areas to wall off cabs, so this seemed like the best way. Once all the drums were recorded, we went back to record the bass and guitars to the drums. After all these parts were finished, we recorded all the additional acoustic interludes, vocals and string instruments. There were many trips I took, probably around 7 or 8 different weekends. Once everything was recorded, I had all their stuff on my portable hard disk recorder and had to transfer every single file from it to the computer, and then figure out where it all went as well as place it together. A lot of times they’d have to point out things missing and I’d have to go back and relocate that certain track and transfer it in. It was really like going back in time in a way, but no matter what we had to do to make the process work, we were all determined to get the best outcome that we could. They seem really happy with the outcome and I hope their fans will enjoy what they hear. I know I am really excited about it, as a fan myself.
In examining the themes and concepts behind the discography, and to really compress some of those ideas, Devoid of Light (2016) is a look around. The sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, our cosmic existence, our worldly domain, and how little control we have over the time we have. Cult of a Dying Sun (2018), as you've so eloquently phrased it in the past, is a "reflection." A reflection of ourselves, society as a whole, our projections, and misunderstandings. With Djinn, I see it as much less a reflection, and much more of a microscope. It feels as if you've taken your observations and are now dissecting those around you. Any truth to that?
Superchi: Absolutely. I grew up pretty sheltered and have always been a loner — if you will. I don’t mind being alone and spend most of my time that way, so going out into the world and having to see so much in a short period of time has really educated me on a lot of things. The negative side of humanity isn’t hard to find, especially in the music industry and I use it as inspiration to empower my art rather than let it destroy it. With “Djinn”, the concept of the album is possession. Possession; physically, metaphysically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally and so on. My art is very personal to me and I’ve watched many try to tear it down or apart, even from within. While watching this in some certain areas I’ve even purposely fanned those flames for further insight and inspiration. Our last album was about reflection and the last song was titled “Mirrors”, which was very introspective to what was happening within the band. Now it is our turn to turn those mirrors back on the side of society that has chosen to target us. I suppose we need somewhere to send a djinn when calling upon one.
In hearing Djinn in its entirety, I was blown away by how much progressive and psychedelic inspiration has really seeped in. This is a different type of monster than the Uada most people know, and yet there's a familiarity to those who have had their ear towards you for a bit. In particular, this album's melodies brought back flashbacks from the Ceremonial Castings days — in particular, ‘Salem 1692' (2008). Can listeners expect a small spiritual reawakening of that sound?
Superchi: Thanks. When starting Uada, I wanted it to be its own entity and although I didn’t want it to sound like any of my other projects, I still could very much hear it in our first two albums. My style will always be present because I do a lot of the writing. It’s that familiarity that I think is important to the albums we create. It’s where I evolved from so, I’m glad that you can hear that, although it isn’t something I’ve purposely pushed or planned. And although there is that familiarity to it, I think it is important that it does hold its own identity and I think “Djinn” really speaks for itself while taking our sound into another spectrum.
You spend a lot of time in nature, and spend an equal amount of time around the creatures in it, especially the strays. This year I'd wager you've spent a bit more time exploring the wilderness that can still be found around you than usual. Are you more at home out there, among the trees and mountains? Is there a certain appeal to living in a growing city like Battle Ground, that has sprung up so much in recent years, or do you enjoy being between those two worlds? Is there a balance?
Superchi: There used to be a balance and then it all got neglected to focus full time on the band. As you mentioned “Between Two Worlds”, I’m sure you also caught the theme in “Forestless” as well. Right now, I’m mostly stuck at home being possessed by screens. This year I’ve recorded three albums, mixed two, helped mix one and recording more now. On top of that, the number of interviews, promotional work, planning, communication and so on has been at its highest level yet. So now, I’m really eager for more time in nature. I was lucky to take a drive up into the mountains with the wife today, although we were scoping the proximity of the wild fires in our area. Right now, we’re between two walls of smoke, but that’s better than where we were yesterday. A lot of places nearby are evacuating and close friends are having to leave their homes for their own safety. It is something that we deal with here on the west coast, but this year seems to be worse than normal. It is 2020 though, so I guess that is to be expected.
My town, Battle Ground, is growing far too much and quickly for my liking honestly. It’s becoming suburban hell and I am hoping to move further out into the woods as soon as it is a possibility. Right now, I’m in a convenient area and it works, but it isn’t what is desired. In time, though. Everything takes time. I at least can be thankful my area is not directly burning, for now.
Many of your announcements come at times of lunar phases, and I look forward to those as a fan since I'm aware there's a greater chance at hearing from the group. Are they just well-timed accidents, or is there some significance to these dates? Uada as a whole seems symbolically-tied to the very face of Luna, herself; are you keeping track of these special moments to come out of the shadows?
Superchi: It is a bit of both. Mostly planned as I like to soak up her energy and give it back. Often things do fall on the phases and it’s always a pleasant surprise when it does. I’ve started to pay a bit more attention to it, as it is a symbol that has a lot of meaning. As one who lives mostly nocturnal, I see the moon phases often at night while out on hikes. It is also something that I can feel coming on. The gravity during these moments always pulls far greater and during these events it always seems like a trial is occurring. Times of change, awakening, and shifts always seem to teach me something. There are always low moments in the abyss that drain a lot of energy before I once again feel rejuvenated and whole. It’s really powerful and there is much more for me to learn, if I could just find some more time to study. Hopefully this fall and winter I’ll be able to balance that a bit more.
For three albums now, I've noticed a trend towards an Arabian melody that has only peeked slightly in the first two outings. Once, at the climactic end of "Black Autumn, White Spring," and another as the main melody of "The Wanderer." It would seem that same type of almost "Bedouin-like" tone flows freely throughout Djinn as if you've been waiting to unleash it at the prime opportunity. Speaking especially of the solo of the title-track, that swaying opening to "No Place Here," and the ambient interlude to "Forestless," can you enlighten listeners as to where this style first appeared to you and how you transform it into Black Metal so seamlessly?
Superchi: One thing that is always present in our work is foreshadowing. Since we are always looking so far ahead, we like to subtly drop hints here and there for what is to come. As far as the sound and style of what we’re playing, “Djinn” is really just an outward expansion to “Cult…” as “Cult…” was to “Devoid…”. I look at our sound as an orb that is slowly expanding from around all sides, like a chaos star slowly ever growing outward. I can’t really speak for James’ solo, but one thing we did talk a lot about when starting the band was incorporating a bit of blues into the leads/solos. We both are fans of that sound and when hearing it translated into Black Metal, it just creates another dimension. As far as the beginning of “No Place Here”, to me it’s kind of a typical Black Metal riff very reminiscent of Darkthrone (which influenced a lot of my playing in older projects) followed by a Pacific Northwest feel that you might hear on an old Agalloch album. At least that is what the riffs remind me of when I hear them.
The beginning of “Forestless” I actually wrote a few years ago in Germany while on tour. We had some days off and while most of the others had gone out to adventure for the day, I felt like staying behind. I was messing around on guitar and the new bassist at the time was trying to push some weird tech stuff into what I was doing and I just wasn’t into it at all. It just didn’t feel like it belonged and it wasn’t fitting the mood that I was in. If I remember correctly, I was missing home at the time and was surrounded by this melancholic aura, likely probably due to having days off. I’m not a fan of breaking up the momentum. I remember starting to play what would become this opening riff. I remember at the time it was really challenging and had this strange alternation in the up and down strokes as the chords changed. It really reminded me of something you’d hear on what people would call a “Cascadian” album. It reminded me of my home and I knew that it would most likely become the intro for “Forestless”.
The quote that plays immediately before your soliloquy on "No Place Here" is from the classic film, "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964), based on Poe's short story. Being that we're currently living in a time of plague ourselves, are there any comparisons you can draw between ourselves and the story, whether it's art imitating life, or vice versa?
Superchi: Most of the lyrics for the album were written last year, in the fall and winter and finalized at the latest in February right before I had finished recording the vocals for the album. In March and April while I was finalizing the mix, or trying to before having some technical issues that ended things a bit sooner than I had hoped, I kept hearing a lot of the words and was thinking of how much more relevant they sounded now after COVID-19 had shut everything down. When listening to “No Place Here”, there was a transition into the outro of the song where everything rings out and the drums lead in with a tribal tom cadence. For some reason it felt a bit empty to me and I felt like it needed something a bit more. My first thought was to add a sample and if there was a voice from a film that I would want to feature it would be none other than Vincent Price. There is just something about his tone that is haunting in a way. I felt it would really transpire well. At the time I didn’t have an exact quote in mind but when I started to listen to some of his more famous ones, I knew this one had to be it. I don’t think there could be one more fitting for the time and the feeling that I’m sure a lot of people were experiencing at the time.
Life is always inspiring art and art will always imitate it, just as I hope art will remain to be free enough to inspire life. I know that my lifetime will be alright for the most part, but I fear that generations to come will suffer a great wash and that the platform for art will be reset and crushed by the heavy hand of censorship, giving way to complete technological indoctrination. For their sake I hope I am wrong, and for my own, I hope I’ll already be gone. That doesn’t sound like an existence I’d be interested in living through.
And lastly, I have two questions that I always love to ask as a tradition. The first of which is of course: What are you listening to currently?
Superchi: Right now, during the interview I was listening to the latest Panzerfaust (The Suns of Perdition - Chapter II: Renter Unto Eden, 2020) and Cultus Profano (Accursed Possession, 2020), and earlier on my drive today I was listening to Fields of the Nephilim’s album “Mourning Sun” (2005), followed by the Executioner’s Mask (self-titled, 2020) debut.
My final question is: Do you believe that great suffering breeds great art? Or is it just that? Adversity for the sake of.
Superchi: I do believe that suffering does breed great art and that one must suffer for their art. Personally if I can’t hear, or more importantly feel pain in an album, I most likely won’t like it, nor listen to it again. I think adversity just for the sake of it may have its place, but it isn’t in the music or the lifestyle and should only exist for the purpose of one’s mere entertainment and/or educational purposes. For me, well… I just want sincerity and honesty in the music and the words. I’ve always said music is meant to be felt, not heard.
If there is no feeling to it, there is no point to it.
Thanks so much again for taking the time to humor a massive fan, and congratulations on another incredible American Black Metal benchmark.
Superchi: Thanks Jacob, I hope we get to meet again and appreciate you taking the time to conduct this interview. All my best!
Djinn is out today, courtesy of Eisenwald Records. Summon your own copy, HERE.