Machine Music's Albums of the Decade: Aaron Turner talks Wavering Radiant and the demise of ISIS
This is the FIFTH installment of the Albums of the Decade series of interviews. For the rest of the series go HERE.]
Album: Wavering Radiant
Label: Ipecac Recordings
Favorite Song: "Stone to Wake a Serpent"
The Bare Bones: Released a decade ago, Wavering Radiant was the fifth studio album of post-metal/sludge pioneers, ISIS. The album was not only a radical melodic departure for the band, introducing clean-sung vocals and sleeker production, but it would prove to be the band’s final output, with ISIS calling it quits in 2010.
The Beating Heart: I’ve always been aware of a tendency in my writing to focus on my own personal experience, and I have been just as aware of how off putting that is for some readers. And I accept and respect that. But for me, as for many ISIS fans over the years, Wavering Radiant retains a bittersweet spot in my life. It is both a peculiar, challenging album, that for years has divided fans who either love its cleaner aesthetic or hate it. For the record, I have always loved it. But more importantly it has attained that somber spot for being the band’s last statement before it abruptly broke up, leaving a post-metal-sized hole in many a heart. For me this experience was especially wounding as the Waving Radiant tour was the only time I was even close to seeing the band live, only to skip the show, and rue that decision for the rest of my life (a fact referenced as the reason for my being “disgruntled” at the beginning of the interview).
And so this interview with Aaron Turner is a chance to get some closure for that gaping wound. For the first time since the band broke up, Aaron, who obviously has been keeping himself very busy in the interim, was willing to sit down and reflect on that traumatic moment in the band’s history. To reflect on Wavering Radiant as an album, but also to discuss the growing tensions that album manifested and that eventually led to the band’s disillusionment and putting the breaks to his legendary label, Hydra Head Industries. So, it’s safe to say this is a very special conversation for me, one that proved informative, moving, and painfully honest on anything from ISIS’ musical direction, the relationships within the band, and the importance of communication, whether in art or in life.
Before getting to the interview itself, I’d just like to remind any who are interested that a) this is a part of an ongoing exploration of my albums of the decade and that the project’s landing page can be found here; b) that recommendations, interviews, and much more can be found at the blog’s Facebook page; the new Instagram account; Spotify (playlists galore), and c) more timidly, perhaps, that if you’re down to contribute to whatever it is I am doing here, you can check out my Pateron page. There’s a lot of cool stuff about to happen there very soon. Enjoy.
The band broke up, and you picked up the pieces quite early, whether through the projects with Faith or later with Sumac. And, just to sum up, this is our third interview. The first one was an interview with you and Faith [Coloccia, Turner's partner both in music and in life] about Mamiffer, and I guess I tried to slide in some ISIS questions, but you weren’t having it.
And then the second interview was about your project with William [Fowler Collins, Turner's partner in Thalassa], and that had nothing to do with ISIS at all. And all the while the disgruntled ISIS fan in me was waiting to pounce.
So here goes. And I guess my first question…. A lot of the preliminary stuff I usually do in interviews, we’ve already done that, so we’re not going to go there. So my first question is going to be: how come you think you’re ready to talk about it now?
Well, just referencing what you did in other interviews, I’ve always been annoyed when journalists want to talk about my past, especially about ISIS, when it’s something like Thalassa or Mamiffer. I understand it a little more when it’s something like Sumac or Old Man Gloom where there’s some stylistic crossover, but generally speaking, especially with Mamiffer, which is totally Faith’s band, ISIS has nothing to do with that. She’s already saddled with the unfortunate baggage of being in a band with me and having people want to focus on my past rather than her present, and that’s something that we generally squash very early on, trying to steer people away from the typical expected thing where people want to focus on the accomplishments of a man versus the efforts of a woman that are being overshadowed by that. So, especially in that context, I tried to avoid it.
More specifically, I think the end of ISIS was very difficult for me, even the last couple years of the band, I had so many conflicted feelings about what we were doing creatively and also how we were getting along personally, I just felt like I wanted to leave that behind. So, while I understand people wanting to talk about that and how it also contextualizes what I do now, I have also really tried to push conversations toward what’s happening now. Because for me that’s what’s more relevant, and if people are interviewing me for what I’m doing now I would much prefer to talk about that than what I did in the past, which for every year that goes by decreases in relevance for me. That’s a roundabout way of saying I’d rather not talk about ISIS [laughs]. There is a lot in that that’s deeply woven into the course of my life and I’m also happy that the music has continued to have a life after the band, and that’s it has meant a lot to a lot of people, that’s something that I am very grateful for, regardless of if I actually want to talk about it or not.
And then the last piece of this is that when we disbanded there was a group discussion about how we were going to present it. And it was difficult for everybody to get on the same page there, because we all felt differently about split and why it was happening and how it was happening, so we chose this very diplomatic route of giving a very generalized answer as to why we were splitting. And so in the aftermath of that I was stuck to that, and when people asked me about what happened at the end I didn’t feel really comfortable really delving into the details too much, I was trying to be very diplomatic about it.
But, at this point everybody has moved on and has gone on to do other things and I think that some of the residual pain that was there when we split has dissipated, and so it’s a little bit easier now to speak more candidly about the band in general and also about the years that led up to our eventual split.
Do you feel like the Caleb benefit had anything to do with it? [a show organized following the death of Old Man Gloom bass player Caleb Scofield that featured an ISIS reunion under the name Celestial]
No, not in terms of me being able to discuss it. I mean, obviously the Caleb benefit was the reason we came back together to play our music again. But as far as whether or not I’m willing to discuss, it didn’t really have much to do with that specifically.
So, I don’t want to make too much of it, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time you’ve spoken about why the band broke up, at least not in the context of Wavering Radiant.
And I went back to some of the interviews you gave following the break up, and a lot of them are about creative differences and complementing – and I would like to hear if that was an honest assessment – or being happy that Wavering Radiant was your final hurrah because you described it, I think, as a very democratic, collective album, more of a communal effort to hone your sound. So, that’s the diplomatic aspect of that. But, even if I can’t live inside your head, I’d have to be blind to miss what everyone in the band was doing after the breakup and to not notice how vastly different all those things were.
I think that’s very telling, and I think that anybody that has really paid attention could decipher what the creative differences were just by listening to what everyone was doing afterwards. We went in different directions. And to some extent those creative contrasts were what made ISIS effective at times, the fact that everybody did have different ideas and pushed and pulled in different directions created a complexity in our sound and some dynamics that I think were ultimately pretty interesting.
As far of the diplomacy in terms of how we presented the story at the end of the band, that was partially accurate. It was accurate in that we said in our statement, basically, that we had said all we could say as a collective, that was very much true. If we had tried to write another record we wouldn’t of had the choice of breaking up it just would have imploded on its own accord.
The component of speaking about creative differences, that was very real as well. When we started the common goal was pretty unified. And at that point some of us are still in our late teens and early twenties, so our creative personas and our personalities were still in these very formative, transitional periods. So it was easier, I think, at that point to put differences aside and just plunge into this collective effort. But as we grew older and our tastes became more specific and more divergent, it became harder and harder to find that common ground and find a way to make it work.
To reference the first part of your question, about whether or not I’m glad that Wavering Radiant was our last record – I’m glad it was our last record because, as I said, I don’t think we could have written another one. I don’t feel good about it as a final statement for the band. It’s definitely not my favorite record we made. I can’t disentangle it from the difficulty that I experienced in making it. So, for me, though I’m glad that other people have gotten something out of some of the ISIS records that I don’t feel really good about, which would be the last two….. I’m glad they exist for the people who enjoy them. For me, personally, I wish Panopticon had been the last record [laughs]. To put that bluntly.
I… I don’t know to what extent I should be inserting my own experience, but, fuck it. I think that for me, as a listener, I always liked that album because it was different. But there are two things that jump out when I think of Wavering Radiant. One of them is the production, because that album is way sleeker. Not overproduced, but in ISIS terms, a lot more produced.
Yeah, that’s for sure.
And I think that may date it, a bit. It sounds like a 2000s album, in other words.
Yeah. I mean, I have qualms about just about every aspect, so, yeah, the production was an issue for me for sure.
And the other thing I wanted to say is…. It’s interesting that sometimes band that have disparate initial artistic impulses within the band. So there’s that album where everyone is trying to figure out what their role is, and then there’s that album in which everything coalesces beautifully, usually the second or third album…
And then they kind of hit it and go on a roll. And in a way I can see how Wavering Radiant can be seen as a kind of tragic figure in that continuum, because it could be seen as the moment where it’s not a band anymore, just a collection of people, everyone doing their part – “I like that part so that part will be there and then the part you like will come next.” Do you see what i mean?
Yeah, Yeah. And it was that to some extent. I think there was a greater sense of cohesion in the earlier records and by the time we got to Wavering Radiant it was very much people playing a role. Like “I want to do this, and this part matches with what everyone else is doing,” but it wasn’t so much, at least from my perspective, about what felt right as it was about what made sense logistically. And to me that’s kind of the antithesis of why I wanted to play music. It wasn’t about what was in key or what seemed right or what seemed like a song, it should have been about what felt good, what felt emotionally resonant and what, in a lot of ways, even felt dangerous or precarious. I think the playing and the style of Wavering Radiant was very comfortable, it was like we knew what we were doing, we knew what we were good at as a band, not as individuals and we just did that. It was kind of like refining a template that we had already set out two or three records prior versus pushing ourselves to really do something different.
This may be a general question, and you may not feel comfortable answering it, but do you feel that’s an inevitable process?
I don’t, no, I don’t. I do think that it’s an inevitable process for some bands, and I do think that it could be especially difficult for a band like ISIS, where we started the group at a young age, we hadn’t developed really mature, developed ways of communicating and thus we became locked into a particular way of operating as a unit and with each other. And in my experience as an adult playing with other adults, your willingness to communicate openly with others increases as you become more defined as a person. That’s obviously a gross generalization and everybody’s experiences are different, but the way ISIS related with each other was pretty much set out from the first two or three years we were a band, and it didn’t change much from that. And I think that was a big stumbling block for us, we weren’t able to work past those immature male ways of communicating in a very passive-aggressive fashion, so everybody’s true feelings about what was happening were often veiled. And that made it difficult for us to really push creatively, because we couldn’t get past that personal communication block.
I think there are plenty of examples of artists, both individuals and bands, that continued to grow and evolve over time. I don’t think that’s the norm, it’s definitely more often the case that people establish some sort of status quo and they just kind of ride it out. But there are examples of those who continue to push themselves and those ending up often being the people I find the most intriguing and drawn towards. And I think there’s a willingness to fail there that needs to be an inherent part of the process to create successful art.
You already stated that you started the band very young, do you think any of this was impacted by the fact that you became quite visible at a young age? Meaning that the band did well while you all were young?
Yes, I definitely think that was part of it. A lot of our choices about what we did were kind of based off of that. For instance you referenced the production a while back. The more our records sold the more our record labels were willing to give us to record our records, and so I feel that had a very palpable impact on the way we did things. The making of the our first couple of EPs and even Celestial was very…. I think there was a deep sense of urgency in the process that translated into the recording of those albums. We had a limited amount of time and we really just had to go for it. And when it got to the point of the last couple of records, where we were spending three or four weeks in the studio, it just took all the urgency out of it. Though the sounds themselves might have been pristine and resulting in these very well-balanced mixes, I think the overall impact and visceral quality were lost as a result.
There was also some turmoil in the group about how we were going to do things, what we should or shouldn’t do, based on the idea that this was a “career.” And I remember having these very tense discussions based on, you know, we’re offered tours with certain bands, big bands, and some people were like “Yeah this is what we need to do, to step it up,” and other people were like “No! This band sucks, and we’re not doing that!” And so that definitely become a thing, where what we had wasn’t enough or we needed to have more, and I think that that was definitely an issue that ended up being a pretty divisive thing in the end.
I don’t know if this is a separate issue or maybe entwined with what you just said, but, speaking for myself, I function differently when I’m being watched…
Yeah, that’s absolutely an inherent human truth, I don’t think that that’s…. I mean, some people are definitely more affected than others by that, but I don’t think that anybody can say that they are entirely unaffected by being observed.
Do you feel like that played a role as well? I mean, when I write whatever I write, part of me knows or expects no one to read it and there’s a sense of freedom in that. But once I think I have an audience then all these weird anxieties start creeping in. Did that play out?
Hard to say. Like I said, we didn’t talk that openly about a lot of things – how we felt about the band – and most of our feelings just had to be guessed at by one another. And oddly enough a lot of the ways we felt about being in a band with each other and how it ended and all that didn’t come out until way after the fact. So I can’t really say how it affected us as a band. I do think that there was definitely a bigger sense of freedom early on and that could have partially been because, at least for the first five or six years, we just felt like nobody gave a shit so we could basically do whatever we wanted.
Again, it’s hard for me to speak for the group I just to speak to my own experience. The years from basically around 2003 or 2004 through the end of the band were probably some of the worst years of my life. I was in a really awful relationship with a woman who was just really not good for either of us. I smoked a shit-ton of pot to try and numb myself from that and even from some of the things in ISIS that were really bothering me. And I think that the more that relationship went on, and the more pot that I smoked, and the more ISIS moved away from what I wanted it to go, the more I shut down and checked out. So, though I was aware we were playing bigger shows and selling lots of records, a lot of my ability to be present in my experience and perceive what was going on, and even think about what was happening, was really diminished. So my thinking about what other people were thinking about the band wasn’t really at the forefront of my mind as much as it might have been if I had had a clearer head, I suppose.
So, yeah. I mean, it’s impossible to deny that knowing we had an audience and a following impacted us, but to what degree that changed our music, or led to the dissolution of the band? It’s hard to say.
In what way is whatever that happened with the band a kind of cautionary tale for you, about how not to do things, and does it in anyway inform the kind of choices you make now with your band?
Yeah it absolutely does. The biggest thing for me was never to compromise again. And I don’t mean in the way that I have to be this dictatorial leader of a band that just controls every aspect of what we do. At the same time I just felt that I am never again going to go through the process of making a record with other people if I am not, you know, 95 percent behind the music that’s being made. And a lot of the time what was happening for me in ISIS in the final years of our being together was just kind of keeping my mouth shut in order to keep the peace, and settling for things that I didn’t necessarily feel good about just so we can move forward, and because I was petrified of confrontation. I’m still not great with confrontation or speaking up when I’m having problems with things, that’s definitely a whole pattern I’ve been trying to break because it just didn’t lead me anywhere good in my personal life or my creative life. So, I think that was the biggest factor for me – not to do anything that I’m not fully invested in because it’s just not worth doing. Life is too short, relationships with people that you play with are too important to sacrifice for that kind of complacency.
I think that the other thing, that is a little more specific in terms of aesthetics, was that ISIS became more and more like a rock band, and part of the thing that became difficult for me, especially in the last four or five years, is that I felt that we were just going out on tour, or that I was going out on tour, and just doing these rote performances of our songs rather than treating the music as this living, breathing entity that was recreated and rebuilt from night to night. And I realized, and this was in conversations with Faith that I had while it was going on as well as in the aftermath, that I was just being a performer rather than a musician, and that for me is a very important distinction as well. I don’t want to go out there and just do this thing as a job, I want it to be this very relevant, very immediate thing that I am deeply immersed in, as much as possible, at all times. It can’t be just this thing of going out and playing the songs the way they’re “supposed” to be played.
So, that was really crucial for me. I just realized that I let myself go down that path with other people until I had reached a point where I could no longer go on, that I was unhappy with what we were doing, and that I was essentially doing it just to not piss other people off. And that is not a good tradeoff. It also led to some pretty deep fractures in my long-term relationships with those guys. I mean, there had always been some volatility in the group from the get go. At the same time, we were all really good friends on a lot of levels when we started playing together, and by the end of our playing together it was just like we didn’t want to be in the same room with each other a lot of the time. And that’s just not worth it. It’s not worth it keeping a group going if you’re going to end up disliking your friends.
I remember, I think this was in the Thalassa interview, that sometimes musicians in general, but I think you were speaking about yourself specifically, have a problem communicating like normal human beings…
And this may be a simplification of the argument, but that what they sometimes do in order to communicate is play in bands. Because they don’t go to parties, they don’t do THAT, they play in a band. And whatever it is that goes on between those people at that time, that’s a meaningful form of communication. So, in a way, I feel like what you’re saying is that if you don’t evolve past that point then that magic will stop. That at some point you’re going to have to learn to communicate with people beyond just jamming with them. So the music needs to evolve but you need to evolve as a person too.
Yeah, well I think both things exist. You can be great friends and play with them and you can continue playing with them just because you like them as people, and that is a totally valid reason for playing music. At the same time there are plenty of examples of really vital music that’s made by people who have awful interactions with each other, and that’s also a valid thing too. If your end goal is art for art’s sake, that’s fine, that’s just not for me. I need to have a balance of good interpersonal relationships and successful musical results. For me I think that deepens the overall experience, when one enriches the other.
And just to delve a little bit deeper into that…. Especially with young men, I think the ability to communicate openly and the skill of speaking and articulating yourself, and especially talking about feelings, is not only underdeveloped in our culture it’s almost taboo in a lot of ways. So, with all these guys in ISIS, we came together, and I would like to say that our interest in aggressive music had something to do with our background, the pain we experienced as young people growing up in tumultuous households. I think that was part of what brought us together, the need to deal with that stuff. We weren’t able to talk about it, we were able to write music together that helped us express those feelings and maybe helped us understand one another or understand why we were drawn together. And I think there is a kind of telepathic communication that arises when there’s good chemistry in a musical group, and we definitely had that, at times, and for a good period of years.
At the same time that did wane as time went one, and there were a lot of factors involved in that. So, I think it is possible to have one without the other, I think it’s difficult to sustain it, especially with the same group of people over a long period of time. And at this stage of my life, you know, people are adults, people often have jobs outside of the band, people are parents and partners, and there’s just not enough room in that kind of life to have these creative things that are really dysfunctional. It’s just not worth the sacrifice anymore. I mean, when you’re young and it doesn’t matter that you lose your job when you go on tour, or your relationship dissolves if you leave for more than a couple of weeks at a time, those kinds of facets of life are more expendable. But as you get older then the music kind of has to be worth it. And if you’re going to spend time with people, for me, it has to be people that I enjoy being around, otherwise it’s just like “I’d rather be at home making music on my own or with Faith or spending time with my child.” Because life is short and too precious to waste on music that isn’t vital or being around people that just make my blood boil.
For the artists I speak with for this series I try and see whether or not that moment in time we’re reflecting on holds a kind of interest. But for me personally, this is a recap of the last 10 years of my life, and a lot has happened in those 10 years. And so it’s interesting for me to reconsider a lot of these albums and see where I am with these albums. And one question that I ask repeatedly, and I like that there’s a repeating structure, even though this interview is very different in many ways, but what I usually ask is something like “you’ve grown, time has past, but what about that albums is still something you’re proud of?” But I think we’ve established that you don’t like Wavering Radiant.
So what I would like to ask is about any influence from that album on Sumac. Because when Sumac came out I was very surprised. Because I think the setup in a lot of peoples’ minds was “Cool, he’s back making distorted heavy music, this will be the new ISIS.”
And it wasn’t. It felt much more aggressive.
And it felt much more in your face. And one of the things that highlights that is your vocal style. All of which is to say is that I think there’s a hint of that on Wavering Radiant. There are moments on that album in which you sound like you do in Sumac. So I guess the revised version of the “are you still proud” question is: Out of the rubble of Wavering Radiant, was there an aesthetic lesson your took away with you to Sumac, which I guess is ISIS’ distant cousin?
Yeah, well, that’s a tough one. I should say that I don’t disavow Wavering Radiant as a whole, I can hear things on that record that I think are good ideas, and there are even parts of it that I would say I almost could enjoy [laughs]. This is hard for me to answer because I am quite close with some of the guys in the band still and I know that we have very different opinions about this. And i’m trying hard to be honest about my feelings without hurting somebody else’s feelings and hopefully, whether they read it or not, we have a solid enough relationship at this point that this kind of stuff isn’t really going to rock the boat, so to speak.
This is tangential to our question, but as ISIS’s music became more melodic I felt like doing the more severe harsh vocals didn’t make as much sense. And there were, and there are, a lot of different kinds of music that I enjoy that employ melodic vocals. And some of those things that were influential on what I was trying to do vocally in ISIS. That all said, I was never really comfortable singing melodically in ISIS. I get it, I tried it, I pushed myself, there are some vocal melodies in different songs that I think are pretty good. But I just didn’t like doing it, especially when I had to do it live I always felt like…. Not like it was forced exactly, but it was just like “This doesn’t feel natural to me.” I think it’s good to push myself, I like trying new things. Yet at the same time there’s a difference between doing something that feels like it’s a risk and being willing to see whether or not it works, versus doing something that seems, again, like it’s the right thing to do. So, I think that in some way I thought it seemed like the right thing to do, to add clean vocals to what ISIS was doing, but in retrospect I totally wish I had not done that. In fact I think the dichotomy of harsh vocals in conjunction with a lot of melodic music can be really really interesting, more so, to me, than what’s become almost an awful template in a lot of modern heavy music, which is brutal vocals over harsh stuff, melodic vocals over clean stuff. That’s come to have a really bad connotation for me. That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions, but overall I think we all know where that trajectory led to [laughs]. And it wasn’t good.
At the time we were making Wavering Radiant I was listening to a lot of really harsh stuff.
Both noise music, which had been a fascination for a while, but especially a lot of black metal stuff. And that had started with me maybe around 2005, but it had reached a point of obsession by the time Wavering Radiant was made. I wasn’t necessarily trying to graft that aesthetic into what ISIS was doing, because that would have been distasteful, to say the least, and also in some way disingenuous. But at the same time that kind of atmosphere and that kind of feeling was what I was really personally feeling at the time we were working on that record, so there were moments in various songs where I felt like “OK, it’s appropriate to color this section really darkly, both in terms of the lyrics and the savagery of the vocal delivery. And also even in some parts the atmospheric background textures that I made. So all of those things, all of those parts of the record that I really delved further into the darkness, to put it kind of hamfistedly, is definitely where I felt the most connected to the music and also kind of the launchpad for where Sumac began.
A lot of what I wrote for Sumac initially was along the lines of what I had wanted to do in ISIS for some time and also partially what I have envisioned for us even as far back as maybe Oceanic. But I could never conjure that stuff or if I came up with things that were more along those lines they just fell flat when I brought them to the group. So it was a seed that didn’t really germinate until much later and into a very different context. I guess there were tendrils of that poking out here and there in the overall framework of Wavering Radiant.
Speaking as a simplistic listener, I would say that the first Sumac album sounds like: “I’m Aaron Turner, I’ve been holding back for a decade now, fuck y’all”
And I think that it would not be unreasonable to say that that Aaron Turner was to an extent present in Wavering Radiant because he was frustrated.
Because I think you can hear it there. It was just that the final coming out of that frustration was in that first Sumac album, like a valve was being opened.
I think that’s definitely at least partially the case. I think, just talking about lessons learned, sometimes you have to go through certain things in order to find out what you don’t want. I mea, theoretically most people are hoping that they’re doing what they want with their creative work, or even in their relationships, but sometimes you really have to do something for a while to figure out that that’s not what you want to do [laughs]. And that’s really what it comes down to with the last two ISIS records. I was trying really hard to find a perspective on the work that would allow me to embrace it entirely, while another part of me was kind of segregated off to the side, knowing that this wasn’t the right path for me and screaming out to do something different [laughs], to put it in a very literal way.
So, yeah. That part of me was there, but as I said to you a few minutes ago, I was kind of shut off from my life, and in a lot of ways I was shut off from my own interior voice. And I can’t blame ISIS for that, in fact it’s quite possible that I could have had an influence on the music that ultimately would have helped me feel better about it, then and now, if I had been in better contact with my own interior voice at the time when all that stuff was going on. If I had fought for what I really wanted, if I had known what I really wanted, I think certainly things could have been different. That’s not to say that ISIS would have ever sounded like Sumac, or that it would have helped us have a greater longevity, but I do think that I could have done things differently, and I do think that that apathetic attitude that I had back then really was a big part of the problem as well, as much, or more, as the group dynamic.
I think I have one last question. So, in my mind, and I may be wrong, ISIS breaking up was also the end or the start of a kind of coma phase for Hydra Head Records. Those two may not be connected, but they feel connected. So I guess I’d like to ask: a) is there a connection? And b) Hydra Head has been operating at a very slow pace, but do you ever conceive yourself going back to where Hydra Head was, in terms of activity?
Some of it is coincidental and some of it is intentional. There were a few things that coincided with each other. I got out of that long-term relationship that I had been in with this woman who was awful and dysfunctional and crushed my soul [laughs]. I finally made the decision that I didn’t want to do ISIS anymore. And then my partnership with the other guy who I had been doing Hydra Head with for years, kind of reached a breaking point. And all of that had happened within a two-year span. So again, some of it was coincidental, but I think part of it was just like that voice inside me that I had suppressed was finally going “Alright, enough is enough.” And consciously and unconsciously I made steps to change my life, and a lot of that meant dissolving, altering or, in some cases, incinerating these relationships that I had had with people with whom I was doing these things with. And it was a hard transition for me, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy for some of the other people involved too. And I think that that was very important for me.
Hydra Head and ISIS had both started off as these very chaotic and open enterprises, and it was pretty much just about doing these things for the sake of doing them. And then as the years went on they both turned into careers, for better or for worse. I would say overall that Hydra Head ultimately is easier for me to wrest with than what happened to ISIS, I feel generally good about at least the artistic aspects of Hydra Head. At the same time, there were a lot of missteps with both. I made a lot of poor decisions, I didn’t do a very good job in communicating with a lot of the very important, central people who were involved in both and I suffered and so did the output, the functionality of these things.
And, again, part of this has to do with the context. Hydra Head and ISIS started in Boston, both moved to Los Angeles. The early years in Los Angeles were basically OK for me and then the longer I lived there the more oppressive the environment became. So along with getting out of this relationship that I was in, stopping ISIS, and the radical downshift with Hydra Head, I also moved out of L.A. So I kind of made all the biggest life decisions that I could within a couple of years of each other. And, again, some of that was unconscious and some of it was very intentional.
So, I don’t need to be doing the same things that I was doing when I was 19, 20, 25, 35, you know? My life is just different, I want it to be different, and I need different things now. And running a label is not what it was for me back then – I was deeply immersed in that on a daily basis and now I have become quite a bit more selfish in terms of what I want to focus on. I want to focus on my family, I want to focus on my own work, and I want to run a label kind of the way I did when Hydra Head first started, where I found people who were doing things I liked, that I thought were important, but I didn’t want to be the vehicle for other people’s ambitions. I don’t want to have to provide people with crazy video budgets or how to devise marketing strategies, I want to be able to focus on just making records for people whose work I believe in and doing it on a small scale while still trying to facilitate as much as I can on a reasonable level.