Machine Music's Album of the Year: An Interview with Scarcity
Label: The Flenser
Favorite Song: "III"
The Bare Bones: Aveilut (Hebrew for "grief") is the debut album from American avant-garde black metal project Scarcity, featuring composer Brendon Randall-Myers and vocalist Doug Moore (Pyrrhon Seputus, Weeping Sores, Glorious Depravity).
The Beating Heart: With this, the first of three AOTY interviews I intend to publish in the coming weeks,* there is a kind of converging of, appropriately, three distinct streams that have somewhat dominated my thinking about extreme music in the last 12 years or so. The first is that place where modern classical music, or what might call the modern classical sensibility and some of the parallels it finds in recent avant-garde metal, specifically black metal. The second is the force, nay, the life force that is Doug Moore, a person who as both a musician and as a writer has served as a kind of model for the kind of in-depth, widespread thinking about what metal is and what it can do, both emotionally and intellectually. The third is my own identity as a Jewish person, and the ways in which I have found metal to both fit and be an odds with that definition.
* Note: Yes, three AOTYs. I'm crazy like that. Here are the 2021, 2020, and 2019 AOTY interviews. Here's one other 2022 AOTY interview, with SkyThala, and here's the full 2022 AOTY list.
But that's just a buncha words. Aveilut does indeed represent the coming together of all these things that mean the world to me. But I would not be here, sitting with you talking about how it fits into what I consider to be an AOTY if it were just those things. Instead it is a cultural, musical, and emotional event, a watershed moment in modern black metal, and one of the most compelling musical happenings in my adult life. The measuring of its proportions, though, begs us, for a moment, to return to my analytical analysis of it in the previous paragraph – that it is, at the same time, an event in metal, in modern classical music, and in the emotional void we are all still dealing in the wake of whatever-the-fuck-the-last-three-years-of-our-lives have been. It is an awakening, and I am indeed awake. Other than that, the conversation I recently had with Brendon and Doug isn't just one of my favorite interviews ever, but probably one of my own most personal.
These were a couple of years in which isolation and death seemed to reign supreme, and they caught me, on that personal level, in the middle of some significant, mostly positive, upheaval. Through that, one of the brightest points of light have been the kind, generous people who read my words, support my Patreon, or just send a nice message once every now and then. You all made this past year that much more livable. My endless thanks.
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I’ll begin with the question I always ask, which is: Do you remember a moment you had with a song, an album, album artwork, or a performance, that really changed how you felt about music? That awakened something different in you, I guess you could say. This given the caveat, naturally, that this is something that happens quite a bit in a musician’s life, so I guess I mean an earlier moment.
Brendon: I mean, the earliest really formative one was seeing Converge my freshman year of high school, at the Worcester Palladium with the Hope Conspiracy. It was my first mosh pit that I had ever been to. And my first time really seeing like a hardcore band live. I grew up in central West Virginia where punk rock kind of exists, sort of maybe, somewhere. But moving up to New England for high school was like the first time I got exposed to a lot of these things. And just seeing that band – was on the Jane Doe tour in 2001 – they were just crushing it. And me, as a 13-year-old, they just completely blew my mind. That's one big one.
Not to be nitpicky, but what does “crushing it” mean in that context? What was it about that experience that made it what it was?
Brendon: Part of it obviously is just getting to feel what a mosh pit feels like from the inside. It's funny, I saw Converge again actually just a month or two ago, and there's still an incredible live unit. They still have a lot of the same energy, and Bannon is still doing a lot of the same running around and throwing the mic stand around his neck, right?
Doug: Jumping jacks, shit like that [laughs]
Brendon: Yeah, it's quite impressive. And it's kind of funny, you know – now my experience of it was much more clinical. But at that age I had never seen anyone do any of those things before. Just how tight the band was, and also the kind of intensity of what I perceived as emotional content of the music, married to the technical precision, plus the show-person-ship of it. I think all of those things made a big impact on me. And then also the collective aspect of experiencing music, which, again, coming from folk and rock…. Metal and hardcore, the relationship with the crowd to the band is also something that's pretty special, in my opinion. It's a thing that I really value in that music in those scenes.
So, you felt that connection?
Doug: I've had a number of experiences like this over the years, where some album or live experience has kind of shifted my understanding in some way where I can kind of think before and after the event. One that comes to mind that's relevant to this band in particular, I think, is the first time that I saw Swans, which was in 2010. It was after My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, the first comeback record, but they were playing material that would end up on The Seer – it was before The Seer came out. And it was at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. It was a big deal that they were playing shows again because they had kind of just reappeared. You know, they're a New York band, so in general they were starting to enjoy that little critical renaissance that they had at that time, but sort of on the upslope of it.
And the show was super sold out, they definitely had oversold the venue. It was July of that year, and the air conditioning had broken in the venue. And so it was very, very hot. It was a really hot day, and the air was just very still and thick. At the time I guess, I guess I was 23, I would have been, so pretty young, and I had been into Neurosis for years, and I'd seen Sunn O))), so the idea of heavy drone-based music wasn't new to me. I'd experienced it before. I was pretty comfortable with that. I was a young guy, so we pre-gamed For the show, substantially.
Doug: I had eaten a bunch of drugs and drank a lot. So, we get in there, and we're waiting for them to start and. And there’s this palpable tension building up in the room before they go onstage. People are really, really excited to see Swans. And the way the set starts is that one member, probably Gira, walks out on stage and turns his amp on and then just walks back off stage. And there's five or 10 minutes of feedback, and then another guy walks out and turns an app on and then walks off stage. And there's just like 30 to 40 minutes of excruciating buildup before they do anything, in this extremely hot room where people are just sweating before anything even happens.
And they gradually ease into the first song, which I think is that first long song in The Seer. I can't remember the name, but it's the eight- or nine-minute number at the beginning of the record. And just the way that they took Sonic elements which by themselves are not too nasty, they're not playing fast, they weren't playing dissonant chords or anything, and really weren't even playing all that loud, at the end of the day. And the way that they took advantage of the energy in the room, and the atmosphere of just being in a hot un-air-conditioned space that was oversold, and used it to build up this incredible massive malevolent energy in the room, really made a big impact on me and really impressed me. Because they were doing so little and yet they achieved this incredibly powerful effect, where you just felt like you were at their mercy completely.
I've seen Swans a bunch of times since then. They're always good. But that was by far the most terrifying experience. It was also one of those shows where Gira was fully in tyrant mode, and was yelling at guys on stage and stuff like that. Sort of bullying the band members and things that he didn't like were happening. And so he seems to be very threatening. We all kind of knew already that he was actually sort of a bad guy in general, based on his treatment of Jarboe and then later on there's been some other bad revelations about him. But in that moment he just seemed to be fully in possession of it, while also possessed by the music of the band. And it was just like this incredibly tense and heavy performance, heavy in the metaphorical way, that it really made me realize how much you can do by staying on one note, so to speak, and staying in one place. Letting the audience's expectations that you're going to change up to create tension for them, as opposed to creating it through the manipulations of a chord progression, or a change in dynamics or whatever.
So that's a performance that I still think about on a pretty regular basis. It's been about 12 years since this happened and I already was kind of like quasi-adult musically at that time, so it sticks out to me, having still impressed me despite the fact that I was starting to get like the adult cynicism that you get when you're not a teenager seeing live music anymore.
Yeah. I missed them on that tour. They actually came to Israel right after My Father came out. But I did catch them, I think it was just a couple of years, maybe a year before To be Kind came out. So this might have been between The Seer and To be Kind. I think those were the following records. It was a very important experience for me. So, now what I usually ask…. I mean, I could pull things out of both of your answers. This is kind of the trick of this question, that I could just pull something out of both of your answers that would still feel relevant to the kind of music you make today, despite the fact that Brendon does not make metallic hardcore and that Doug has yet to release his drone album.
But I have this urge to push more aggressively toward a theme I’m detecting, which is something along the lines of togetherness, right? That's the title. I just gave it right now. Because there is a way of making music that isn't about togetherness, right? And what I mean by togetherness is that whoever is performing is physically attached to the audience, or whatever he's creatine is physically resonant in the audience is physicality in mind. So it's like an all-encompassing, room-filling thing. And you can be room filling and emotive and intense as a Converge, right? Especially on that tour, I can't believe you saw them on that tour. But even especially at that moment of Converge’s career you can do that with being Michael Gira, right? So one way of phrasing the next question would be: “How do you feel like you enact that idea in your music?” Do you try to replicate those moments, do you keep them in mind? This entrancing the audience, you being part of the same space that the audience is in, and so on.
So Brendon, whatever element that hit you as an audience member, do you think that's still at work as a musician, even though the music you made or makes or make is not exactly that? That this is an effect that still inspires you, this “emitting out” of something? I see the wheels turning in your head, Brendon.
Brendon: Yes. I mean, part of the wheels that were turning my head were specifically around [Aveilut] and its genesis during this period, where there was no togetherness. This was basically written and tracked February to July 2020. But, to the broader question: Yes, absolutely. I mean, that connection is why I do music with my life. The connection between performer, composer, audience, between performers. Music is one of the primary ways that I relate to people and connect with people. Whether that's physically at a show, or talking about it, or thinking about it, or making work together. I would say that it’s a primary driver., connectedness or togetherness, or a pretty primary driver of my own creative output, and as a performer. And then more broadly, the whole way that I've organized my life to be able to do that as the primary thing that I do.
Organize your life in what way?
Brendon: Just around making work, basically, around making music. It’s funny, I was also thinking when Doug was talking about my first time conducting [Glenn] Branca Ensemble after Branca passed. And that was one of the first moments that I felt like I just had somebody else [laughs] kind of passing through me, almost like there. A kind of possession moment, or something.
Which is another way of togetherness, I guess.
Brendon: Yeah. And togetherness can be…. It's not inherently a benign experience, you know. And I would say that at that moment it was not…. It was powerful and awesome, but it also kind of fucked my body up too. It took me to some pretty weird places mentally. I don't know. Those are the things that came to mind.
Alright, so just before we get we get to Doug's reaction to this.I want to ask one quick follow up. If togetherness is also a part of the music. Not just the social aspect of the music, right? Getting with people, channeling ghosts of people, but part of the music. That whatever frequencies you're throwing out there, you want them to be received, right?
What is the thought process that leads you to choose the kinds of frequencies that you choose to emit? Because one would ask, or one could wonder: “Hey man, if you're looking for communication, this ain't it.”
Brendon: Yeah, I mean I would say I'm interested in the specificity of the idea communicated, in the specificity of connection, rather than…
Just a broad thing?
Brendon: Exactly. There are particular experiences that I've had personally, particular emotional states that I've shared with people that had hit me really powerfully. And at times when I really needed a connection around certain things or feelings, that I needed to be understood in a certain way. And I think that's what I'm kind of aiming for. So, I have worked in a lot of different genres, but metal is a place where I've felt some of those connections most powerfully in my life. And where I felt just what I was going through in my life and what I was experiencing emotionally, felt very specific to the musical vocabulary that I chose for this record.
Doug: In my case my feelings about this are informed by a lot of the same things that inform Brendon, in the sense that, even though I'm not a professional musician in the sense that's not how I make my living, the experience of collaborating with people, making music together with people, either live or collaborating on creating recordings, is really central to my life and really has been the objective around which I've organized all of my other life choices. So, when the initial COVID pandemic and sort of quasi-half-assed lockdown that we had in the States occurred, that was all kind of taken away in a very abrupt way that really, I think, at the time I was more worried about just trying to get through it, but in retrospect it kind of caused some problems for me. Emotionally, especially, in those first few months of it, when I was striving so hard to spend as much time as I could making this stuff. Pyrrhon, my other band, had just recorded a record and we were getting ready to tour on it when basically the shit hit the fan, so that record kind of just got flushed in the way. Because, you couldn't go out and be on the road with it and show it to people in person in that way that I have become so accustomed to. And for me, that absence of that part of my life was something that really hung over me while I was writing my parts for the Scarcity album.
Brendon and I had discussed the general concept of the record a little prior to the pandemic, but by the time we actually finished the composition and recorded the basic tracks for it, we already were well into the lockdown, and we actually never discussed what I was going to do on the album, in person. We never talked about it face-to-face. We kind of just emailed about it more or less, and I sort of explained the general approach, but he didn't know what I was going to do. I'm really used to, when I'm working on a piece of music as a vocalist where I'm just going to be contributing vocals, usually I'm in the room with the people who are making the instrumental decisions and we're collaborating in a closer way about what should occur vocally, and it just didn't happen with this record and it made for a very different kind of experience.
It's hard to precisely say what the exact creative outcome of that was relative to what might have happened if we had worked on it face-to-face, but it definitely did something to my decision making while I was working on that record. The fact of working in basically total isolation. I wrote it at home, by myself. I recorded it at my practice base, by myself. We really never discussed it all that much. And so in a way. Even though that sense of communing with others in one way or another is so central to my experience in music, this album is unique in that it really didn't have that, really. Instead, there was just this big echoing void, where the collaborative process normally would have been. It's hard for me to articulate exactly what was the precise effect that had on the lyrics that I wrote and the choices I made rhythmically and tamborly, and all those sorts of things. But when I think back on this album, my experience writing and recording it versus other albums that I've worked on, really what sticks out is that that sense of communalism, that sense of the room vibrating, and many people being there in one way or another to experience that vibration, or to cause that vibration, just wasn't there. So it just makes it feel very unusual, and strange, and kind of sad. I mean, obviously it's a pretty overtly sad record in a lot of ways, but even my sense memory of it is lonely, honestly, compared to when I think about what it was like to make the other albums that I've worked on.
Yeah. Actually, I mean it's interesting for a couple of ways, but I mean Doug and I kind of have “known each other” for some time, especially since for me Doug was basically the paradigm for what I think a metal writer should be, even aside from his music.
Doug: [Laughs] I’m blushing over here.
Well, no one can see it because of your weak connection.
Doug: I'm hiding [laughs]
Point being that I've known of his work for many many years, and I've listened to his work for a great majority of those years. And one of the things, even without ever seeing Doug live or meeting him, that has been very apparent about how you are a vocalist is that you project in a way that touches people. That is emotive, right? Which is not necessarily par for the course for an extreme metal band, nor is it par for the course in some of the sub-subgenre your bands might fit. You could actually argue that aloofness and distance is a big part of the appeal of some of the vocalists in that genre. So, having someone who emotes through that is quite unique. And I think I'm not the only one that noticed that you're marked as someone whose voice is reaching out for someone. Actually a mutual friend of ours, who I consider to be a victim of this pandemic, Drew Hayes, he was a very big admirer of yours for precisely that reason.
Doug: Oh, yeah.
That it's not just that your growl is great or, whatever, that you're really tough, it’s that you emit human emotion even amongst all that noise. So I say all this not just to compliment you, or to compliment Brendon, but I'm leading you to a kind of question. I guess the isolation was hard for everyone, right? And the lockdown was dystopian and weird for everyone, right? But that experience for you guys seems even more extreme, being people who care about the community of music, and care about the message you're trying to transmit. You're alone. And not everyone is trying to connect in that situation. Some people are happy being alone. Some people are like: “This is my time to reflect.” Some people go online and write “Nature is healing” on Facebook, right?
So there are different kinds of responses to isolation, right? And so I guess what I'm asking Doug but also Brendon is that is: Do you feel like you were still trying to connect with some? Despite being, for all intents and purposes, entirely completely alone? Even if you're just in your practice space, yelling into a mic, right? Are you still trying to get to someone?
Doug: Yeah. First of all, I think that's a very astute way of placing me within the overall tradition of extreme metal vocalists, and especially if you look at the world of dissonant, blackened death metal, or whatever you want to call that niche. There's a lot of vocalists who are going for something that sounds soulless and a-human and distant. And that's very much not what I'm doing. So, I think that's all bang on. As far as whether I was still trying to reach people in the way that I do when I'm performing for this record, I think that's definitely the case. When I look back at the lyrics…. You know, when I'm writing lyrics I don't usually think too much about what they mean until after they're pretty much done. I basically write and make granular decisions at the line-by-line level, without trying to nail a thesis, so to speak, or anything like that. And then after they're done I can look back and say: “Oh, here's kind of what this song is about.”
And in this case when I look back at the lyrics, like everybody I was pretty emotionally affected by what was going on around me at that time. And in particular, I feel like in a way I was kind of talking to Brendon in those lyrics, Brendon who, at the time, was going through a lot of other challenging life experiences on top of the pandemic itself. He lost a few people who were close to him in the run up to making the album. In the sense, while the lyrics are about loss and about absence and about people disappearing from the world, a lot of what they're saying is that – it's even the first line of the record – they're never truly gone. Once you lose somebody, the way that they affected your life is still there, and the way that they affected the material world is still there. All the things that they did and who they were are all indelible. And so even if they have gone from the world as living entities, they are still with us, in some way. Because you are different from how you would have been. The world itself is physically different from how it would have been. So, in that sense, they are permanently part of the physical and psychological trajectory of everything that they ever touched.
Yo me, is, as a pretty secular person, that's the most comforting way that I can find to look at grief and to look at loss is in the context of celebrating what has been, and appreciating the way that it changed the world in the time that those people were around. And, you know, it wasn't just Brendon who I was kind of addressing with this because, of course, I was surrounded by people who had lost loved ones. I remember Drew passing very well, and that was really horrible, the way that all happened. I didn't know his family, I wasn’t really close to anyone else who was a super-close friend of his, but I think that in the same way the people that Brendon lost still affected him profoundly and still shaped his life and improved it in the ways that they did, I think that’s the case for for every good person who passed during that period. And so, in a way, the intention of the lyrics was almost like a mollification in a way. It's saying: “Yes, we've lost them, but they are still with us in some way.” Hopefully that's more productive than just saying: “I'm lonely!” Which I feel like is just what a lot of metal is about isolation is, just kind of wallowing, and I'm not the kind of person who likes to wallow. I like to try and find something, find a way to move through those things. And so that was what I was attempting to do there, I guess. Whether it worked or not, who would say? But, when I look back at those lyrics I think that's what I was trying to do at the time. I was just kind of trying to figure out how to wrangle this massive composition, I've never worked on anything like that. So, yeah.
So, Brendon, now it’s two questions: Did you feel like you were the addressee of Doug's lyrics? And the first question, which is: Did you feel like you were still trying to communicate even when you're completely alone?
Brendon: I would say there were stages of the latter. As I was working on the composition…. There are two really distinct parts to it. I mean, the writing of it took place essentially a month split over a year. I worked on it for two weeks in 2019 and then. I basically just finished the whole record in terms of pitches and rhythms in 2020, when I was in lockdown of Beijing. Writing 45 minutes of music in a month is sort of just like a weird fugue state. I feel like in those moments I was mostly conscious of what the music was demanding of me. And then, once I got to the process of translating all of that, once I got into tracking it and thinking about what the actual physicality of the thing was ,that's when I was able to think more about what stuff meant or what its purpose would be. The parts of this that I wrote first, a chunk of part five…. I was looking at drafts of this a while back, and I think I had a lot of what ended up being the first three parts in that first session of writing in 2019. So, part five was a thing I was reading specifically as a kind of requiem, even in the genesis of it. I wrote that very soon after the two people that I knew passed.
I wasn't sure what the ultimate deployment in the world of that music would be, or how it would connect with people at that point. It was more like: “This is an impulse that I am having, I know I just need to get this out.” And then in the process of tracking what ended up being like 14 guitar parts on the record or something, and doing all the drum programming, and playing the bass stuff, and working out all the weird details of the synths. When it got to that point…. There's a way in which I feel like there's the weird physical task of doing it. This sort of weird…. It is like a 45-minute song when I was tracking it, my whole logic file is not split, it's 45 minutes long. So there's this weird landscape that I was kind of just in. I feel like my experience of making my side of it, before Doug wrote lyrics and vocals, was more like a weird excavation or a geography, or traveling through a landscape or something. Both finding and exploring this landscape. Honestly, what some of this record is dealing with, there are a number of other things at play here. A very long relationship I was in was kind of slowly in the process of imploding on itself, too, and there are a number of aspects of that that were kind of coming out in this. A lot of that was coming to a head [laughs] during the period where I was tracking. And then finishing the composition and then tracking this stuff. Yeah, I don't know. I would almost say that the instrumental has an element of, for me, things that I couldn't verbalize very well at that moment. There's an aspect of me just feeling a lot of things that I couldn't verbalize or couldn't even act on necessarily or deal with. And so when Doug actually did articulate a lot of these things, verbally, it was like a really intense and powerful experience, for me, hearing the track with that over it for the first time. At a number of points along the process it was like I heard the record differently. Obviously getting Doug's vocals on there was a big one. And then also hearing Colin’s mix of the whole thing, where I felt I actually really heard what everything was. It's really kind of funny, like an excavation project or something. Sorry, that was a big ramble.
No, it wasn't a ramble at all. I mean, one of the things that is interesting to me personally, seeing that this project of mine is a narcissistic endeavor to answer my life questions through other people.
One of the things that's interesting to me – in the idea of “scarcity” – there are a couple of things that I like about “scarcity.” One aspect of it, which is obviously very evident when we’re addressing the pandemic, and the kind of historical moment that represented, is fewer people, right? So you can talk about fewer people because they're dead. You can talk about fewer people because the streets are empty. I think I still have a phobia of hugging. I hug, but I'm not sure I hug the way I used to, and I'm not sure it's fully there yet. So, even the lack of people in the kind of tactile, immediate sense, right?
But all of that also leads to something that I'm, I think most interested in, is what kind of “scarcity” leads to you, as a person. So, it's almost like you feel like the pulse is getting slower and slower. It could be a lot of things. It could be the way you emotionally deal with these things, but also maybe because of a very weird realization that we are not necessarily attuned to in 2022, which is that we need other people in our lives to survive, and having less people in our lives makes our survival more difficult. A lot of people felt that strain. And when you feel that strain on you, then it's almost like you're kind of diminishing as a person. And you're diminishing, and diminishing, and diminishing some more. And then you diminish to a thing that poops and eats and then you diminish even some more. And maybe there's a danger, that might be very real for some people, of diminishing to the point of no return. Of just disappearing, or ending, in a less poetic way, right?
And so, I am interested in that moment because I feel like some of the most interesting art to me and the art I know I make, is made out of that moment of realizing that you're about to diminish that one final step and saying: “Oh, fuck no. Something else needs to happen.” And so one of the things that is interesting to me about that moment is the initiation of movement. Because one of the things that defines a living thing is that it's moving.
See, Brendon, this is a ramble. You got nothing on me.
And the reason why I'm leading the conversation that way is that – I don't know how to use words like this because I'm not a musician – but the kind of tonality and the “too muchness of notes” – I think Scarcity could be considered among that larger group of “too much notes” with bands like Krallice or Yellow Eyes, and if I really want to try very hard, Emperor or something like that. So there's a tradition of marking yourself as alive by being too much. I mean, I could be a person who listens to Brendon say very beautifully how he felt like he didn't have the ability to verbalize whatever he was feeling and then you listened to the Scarcity album and go: “Wait, but there's so much here!”
There are, I believe you said, 14 guitar parts. Fourteen tracks of guitar is a whole lot of “not a lot there.” I listened to some of your older stuff, and so I realize this is not a new phenomenon for you. You like a lot of clashing small bits that make one large possible bit, ergo: the means of communication. The means of communication is a lot of small sharp darts that might culminate in something that is a larger statement about something. But that in itself is a kind of diagram for living, isn't it? That you just spray out your shit? I'm sorry for the use of fecal matter here
That you just spray it all out. You don't say: “Maybe I have something to say,” and then say it five minutes later, which is Michael Gira, right? You don't do that. You say everything, and you hope something catches. So I guess I want to ask you. And I think maybe Doug, if you feel like this is relevant to you as well, to what extent do you feel like your mode of communication, the way you're trying to form your message is really like a sonar, like a bat with a sonar in a cave that you're blind and you're just throwing out signals everywhere at the same time, Trying to catch something?
Brendon: I kind of love that. There's an element of Jewish identity in the States that has a bit of this too muchness to it, too. I think that’s probably something I've internalized. But, yeah, there are a couple things I'd say about the accumulation of small gestures. I think to that point, particularly, around a vast accumulation of small gestures, and the recipe-for-life aspect of it [laughs]. That’s very central to both my artistic practice and a lot of aspects of how I kind of live my own life. One thing I was thinking about a lot, and that I do think about generally a lot regarding stuff that I write, is the relationship between movement and stasis. The point at which one becomes the other, kind of, to the point of disappearing, and the impetus to movement. It's funny, someone else brought up in an interview recently the Ravenna Hunt Hendrix manifesto on black metal, where she's talking about the urge toward an ecstatic void, or ecstatic annihilation, or something like that. And I was like: “Eh.” You know, for me a lot of my negative impulses manifest in this desire to disappear, basically. And part of what I think draws me to metal and to working in a lot of these musical vocabularies that have a lot of things happening all the time, is that rather than disappearing into nothing, rather than disappearing into neglect, which is like one of a number of things one could disappear into, I disappear into sound and into movement and I'm able to transform one impulse into another one that is more useful to me. So, an impulse toward essentially self harm into an impulse towards connection and movement, and things that ground me. Rather than let me just evaporate.
The other thing I'll obviously just mention here is – and this is again a kind of disappearing, but I don’t know how this shows up, but I'm a pretty life-long long distance runner, and this culminated with me at one point running like 15 miles everyday. And that was a pretty extreme version of both the “I want to disappear” impulse, since, physically, the way you optimize for endurance, you get smaller. But then there's also the transformation of hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands of steps into your body being better at doing a task. And there's also a way that running kind forces me into an awareness of my body and forces me to…. One crucial result of it for me, actually, is that it's made me develop a better relationship with food. Which may be, you know, not a huge surprise given we're talking about disappearing. That's one way that manifests for me, around food stuff. So running, and working out generally, is a way that I manage that in a way that feels sustainable to me.
So, that's a lot of it. The running thing, the way that a single gesture can change meaning over time, is really interesting to me. In running, it's like you just take a step, right? And then with the accumulation of a bunch of steps over an hour you travel a distance. With an accumulation of a bunch of steps over a month, you get better at running and at covering that distance. And then doing that for years, you fundamentally alter your body, and limits and your perceived limitations and your perceived ideas about what you can and can't do physically or emotionally. And so I find that to be a pretty useful metaphor that I often find myself translating into the music that I make.
Doug: I would follow along with that with a couple of things. First is that, you know, I'm not the runner that Brendon is, but I do like to run, and in general I'm kind of a fitness-oriented guy, so this concept is very core to the band, in a way, even beyond the purview of this particular record. Just this idea of this duality between stasis and movement is something that I think, really, we both have a lot of direct experience with. Largely in the world of athletics, but also in the way that we perform music. For both of us, there's this emphasis on endurance, in one way or another, and being able to sustain something for a long time. And the other thing that this really plugs into for me is the concept of having a practice, of having a routine, and being devoted to doing something every day. And for both of us, both in the sense that we have, you know, as amateur athletes, but also as musicians, we both, I think, have been able to to continue to be productive through rough periods and even through this sort of nihilistic desire for self abnegation that you can find yourself dealing with, when in the throes of depression, or having some other emotional problems, through the sort of loadstone of a routine, something that you return to everyday, and even when you are in the pit, so to speak – not the mosh pit, the emotional pit –
Even when you're down, when you're struggling against that desire to stop moving, to disappear and to not be, you can just say: “OK, well, if I can just do a little bit today, just go out and clock a couple miles, or just like pick up the guitar and play for half an hour, or sing for half an hour,” whatever you can do to continue the streak. Having that as a guiding light, or something that you can return to and something that you can rely on, for me, at least, has really been incredibly powerful with dealing with a lot of the emotional adversity that I've experienced in life, and in particular, actually, during the stretch that we were making this record. I was mentioning earlier, there was this big void in both of our lives, where the normal experience of music would be. But, the fact of working on this record gave me something where I could say: “OK, everything is completely upended” – like, I had completely changed careers at that time, and my job was very uncertain. I wasn't sure if I was going to be out on my ass pretty soon, and, in general, there was just a lot of disruption, and chaos, and isolation at that time. And just to be able to say: “OK, knock out a line today, just do something, make a little bit of progress.” Being able to return something like that, I think, is really, really powerful for fighting against despair. It's something that you hear about in public health contexts, of when elderly folk don't have something where they're devoted to doing something everyday, that's when you often start to see bad health outcomes set in. Because, I think that's something that humans, in one way or another, often really need, is something that they feel accountable to and something that they can feel responsible for devoting effort every day. And so that's something that I think is sort of in the nexus of core concepts of this band, is this idea of a practice and of a commitment to making something manifest every day, or almost every day, that I think really, at least for me, allowed me to make the record. I'm not sure if I didn't have that kind of practice-approach to making music I would have been able to break the inertia and. Write even though. It was like this weirdly isolated process for me.
So, I have two things in my mind right now that I'm not sure we'll meet at some center, but I just want to throw them out. The first is that this makes me think about what is the difference between the kind of music that is aimed at a connection, movement, practice, ritual, routine, whatever name you want to give to it, but out of a begrudging necessity. Meaning that if I don't do this, if I don't pick up my guitar for 30 minutes, then tomorrow is going to be a bad day. So, I'm not doing it out of my unadulterated love for music and human connection, I'm doing it because if I don't do it, life will suck. And so, I wonder whether or not that music has a specific shape. Whether in the classical form or in the metal form or the hadcore form, the music, or the writing, or the literature, that people make and that is fragmented, not necessarily because people want to be fragmented, but because they are begrudgingly performing a task that is keeping them alive. And whether or not there's an ethical difference between that and, say, this perfect, harmonious other. Now, what I'm raising here is also a political point. Because, I'm in my mind right now, I have on one hand someone like Schoenberg or Ligeti, and on other hand, I have Wagner, right?
Wagner is: “Look at how everything is powerful together!” It's all one pulsating thing, right? And maybe it's not a coincidence that I've named two Jewish composers and one very non-Jewish.
The other angle I'm putting out there is that this conversation is actually only the second time that I've ever discussed Judaism in the context of metal. Interestingly enough, because one of the things that brought me back into the same metal scene of the last 15 years was what used to be the Brooklyn scene of bands like Liturgy, Krallice, and Extra Life and Charlie looker. And about seven years ago I had one of my favorite interviews ever, which was all about this. About being Jewish and listening to metal, how that fits and how that doesn’t fit, being thrown out of the Nazi metal show. But eventually I had to scrap that whole thing since one of the people in that conversation turned out to be less than a stellar person – it was with Charlie Looker and Andrew Hock [of Castevet and Psalm Zero].
[Both basically saying “Andrew Hock” at the same time as me]
And the reason I raised this is because I was really frustrated by that conversation, because a lot of the things that came up in it, I had no follow up once I decided to drop the whole thing. But one of the things that did come up in that conversation was Charlie Looker’s, semi-Jewish, conflicting entity and its relation with his body and this is where we get back to kind of the fact that he was working out a lot, and that a lot of the Extra Life stuff
Doug: “Flex and glisten,” yeah [laughs].
Yeah, like Made Flesh and Secular Works, was all about him lifting weights and thinking about how the more muscular he got, the less Jewish he was. That was kind of his mindset.
[Both laugh a lot]
Other than Aaron Turner, Charlie Looker is the most interviewed person on my site, historically speaking.
Doug: He's a good interview. He’s got a lot to say.
Yeah, he does. He's got a lot to say, things like “lifting weights dispels the Jewish in me.”
This is where this conversation, I hope, kind of brings it somewhere together, which is to say…. I mean, I apologize, Doug, you’re not Jewish, but you can still participate in this.
Doug: I mean, I’m from Queens.
Good enough. Honorary Jew.
Doug: A little different, but I know a few things.
I mean, some Jews aren’t as Jewish as you for just living in Queens, so don't worry about it. But what I wanted to ask is this: Is there a way that you can participate in this Wagnerian field of metal, which is a very real thing, can you participate in this overtly Wagnerian ritualistic sphere of making music, that is power, that is about big, and about noise and this enlargement of yourself, while still going about it in that taking everything apart piece-by piece, Jewish, I have to do it because I'm forced to.
And by the way I want to add one little piece, that when we talk about rote traditions, meaning repetitions for the sake of repetition alone. We really are talking about something that's very similar to what you and Doug are talking about making music, and you know writing that song because, “Fuck it, what else am I going to do?” Not because you're an inspired genius standing on a cliff, but because you're a watchmaker. To what extent do you feel like you're connected to that tradition? I'm sorry about all that.
Brendon: [Laughs] Yeah, no, that was amazing. Man. I think my feeling a lot of the time is that there's stuff I have to pass through me. There are things that I'm channeling, and the way that I do that most effectively is by making myself kind of transparent. I think about this that people are kind of filters for these things, we're filters for our experience. We're filters for…. I mean, in a way that's what I think a lot of art making is, that we make ourselves into a kind of filter for experiences and things that our subconscious is doing. And then the mechanism by which I translate the impulse or the feeling or the things that I'm channeling and moving through me, the mechanism by which I translate those things as cleanly, or clearly and directly as possible, is through the watchmaker thing. It's by the rote repetition thing. It's just getting really good at a set of mechanical tasks that lets me then not get hung up on the mechanical tasks. And in fact, for me, the only thing that lets me get to higher planes is through this just doing something so much until you can stop thinking about it, or that it starts meaning something different. So, the Jewish urge to take things apart and sort of…
I mean, there's a stereotype at play here, and obviously we were making broad-stroke statements about a lot of people. But, we're not really, because there are about five people who are Jewish and making metal in New York, so it's fine.
But what I mean by this is that I feel this, right? So I'll talk about myself, maybe that's more conducive to the conversation. I write, right? And the way I write is that I have a very deep suspicion of things that feel complete. Something comes up and feels cohesive or feels pretty, I need to fuck it up, I need to break it up, I need to put in an angle. And the way in which I found – and this is going to sound very Oprah-ish – my voice as a writer is that I just just don’t feel ashamed of being petty and weird anymore. I just let all those petty moments come through, and felt like they were the most clear, coherent representation of my thoughts, despite the fact that for most people they are not coherent, nor clear? This goes back to what we talked about your music not being communicative, right? So you people would listen like I would listen. I would let my wife listen to Aveilut and she would hit me in the face within five seconds.
Because that is not her idea of clarity, nor is it her idea of communication, right? And so it's not really that we're talking about THE Jewish tradition, as such, but there is a wing in that, there is a thread in that that really is working with fragments.
Brendon: I mean, Ligeti was my teacher’s teacher, so like I'm pretty literally in that tradition.
Which is unfair to a very profound degree.
Doug: Explains a lot about Brendon, I would say [laughs].
Brendon: What you mentioned too…. You said you kind of you're talking like finding your voice in these moments of things being fucked up or petty. That’s so much of life. Life is not utopian, it’s a bunch of moments, most of which are mundane, some of which are fucking awful, some of which are great. I think there is a lot of meaning in the accumulation of these moments, but when we're talking about some kind of weird unity, that's where it gets weird. There is no unity, except in the kind of accumulation of these moments, to me. And so I too am incredibly suspicious of…. I mean, the Wagner stuff, we know where that leads, right? We know where that mindset leads.
Doug, this applies to you as well, and the reason it does is because you make twitchy music, right?
Doug: Sure do [laughs].
Obviously you participate in this in a collaborative effort. I have this quote in my mind from Mike [Paparo] from Inter Arma. I interviewed him once and he said he wasn't a musician, and I was very surprised and asked why he felt that way.
Doug: [Laughs] That sounds like Mike. yeah.
And he was like: “Well, I don't know man, they know all the theory stuff. I just sing stuff I.” And I was like “You're, Virgil guiding me through hell. You're the guy. If it wasn't for your voice, I'm not listening to the other guys, so you are the music.” So I guess I always wonder what people who are mainly vocalists feel about the musical part. Despite that, or given that, a lot of your bands, perhaps Weeping Sores might be the kind of the odd band out in that respect, with a lot of transitions. A lot of twitch, and a lot of not being content with just the good riff, right? So do you feel like you are also part of that tradition, of being suspicious of a too-beautiful whole?
Doug: You know, my idea of what constitutes beauty is perhaps a little not quite down the middle for the culture. Though sometimes it's not even about trying to achieve beauty. I mean, Weeping Sores has lots of pretty parts, and even in some of the uglier sounding-bands in men like Pyrrhon at times there are some fleeting moments of prettiness. But maybe it’s not my highest priority artistically to achieve that feeling, and I do tend to be a little suspicious of bands that really seem like they have their thumb on the scale and attempt to project that sense of a massive, crescendoing moment of beauty. Because oftentimes, to me, that feels like it's being done in a somewhat manipulative way, I guess. Or that it’s being achieved cheaply or inorganically, in some way. And, like Brendon said, the single-minded pursuit of that, we kind of know where that goes, this privileging of that idea above all others. And ultimately it’s often kind of crass and gross. I guess for me the fact of ending up in these bands that have this jagged, disorienting, at times, sensibilities boils down to just my experience of the world, and my work reflecting to some degree what I'm seeing around me. In Pyrrhon I’m principally the vocalist, but I do contribute instrumentally to that band, so I have some hand in that happening.
In the case of Scarcity, it's interestingly both in that tradition for me and not, at the same time. In the sense that, obviously there's lots of overwhelming density of notes at times. It's a long, complicated piece of music, with some unusual timings and such in it, so it has that sense of disorientation. But it also actually does achieve some moments of that kind of vast, pulsing, clear “connection to the universe” feeling that you get from more Apollonian music that's intended to achieve some kind of vast sweeping sense of grandeur. And the last movement, especially, I think, of having that. But the other thing that I think makes Scarcity interesting to me in that way, relative to my other work, in keeping with the band name, is how much of a sense of blankness or emptiness there is in places, even harmonically and structurally in that band. Even when a lot of stuff is happening, it takes a long time to unfurl. And so you get this sense of pointillism, I guess, wherein there's a lot of tiny little details that are constituting a big picture, but the big picture is a picture of a very stark, seared landscape. You can use thousands and thousands of pen strokes to craft an image of a tundra with nothing on it, and in some ways I feel like that's what Scarcity does, most definitively, or that that's really kind of a core piece of what the band's sound is, to a point and.
To me, that approach kind of problematizes this tension between there being a clattering, neurotic, jarring feeling of chaos, and things changing directions, and a big unified, composed vision of a single idea. It has a foot in either camp, and in a way this kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier, with practice and art that's made out of divine inspiration versus art that's made bit by bit, through a dogged process of working every day. And I think that that dogged process stuff can produce art that has that sense of wholeness and singularity, and specific clear focus. Because the moments at which you're able to evince those sorts of ideas are few and far between, and if you're not at the writer's desk when they occur, then they will pass. And I think that one thing that I've always been very impressed by with Brendon as a musician and a composer is that because he comes to the writers desk all the time he produces lots of ideas. He doesn't keep all of them, but it means that he's there when that moment strikes, and he can write something like part “V” of Aveilut, which is, you know, a beautiful cannon, where he moves through all of these different, very gorgeous, harmonic structures, with the same idea repeated. To me it's just this kind of thing where it seems like the realization of that image took time, but clearly the kernel, the seed of it was something that's the kind of thing that you just get in a moment.
And so to me, the album’s project is in some way to unify those two tendencies and to bring them into alignment with each other, and make them work together. It's funny, at the time that Brendon was finishing it up, right before the pandemic, I was kind of thinking: “Oh well, I've got four bands, I have a lot going on. I don't really know if I'm going to have the time to do it.” And then I heard the instrumentation and I was like: “No. I have to sing on it, period.” And that was a big part of why, the fact that it was able to marry these two tropes, these two traditions of how to think about making music.
I think that that puts it very well. I also think that, speaking as a person who likes to make things that aren't pretty, or who is not interested in pretty, moments of pretty are also for when you're bored with the rebellion. The rebellion needs a rebellion, you know what I’m saying?
So, sometimes the best way to represent negativity is saying “Fuck the anti,” and then presenting this beautiful flower instead. But, yeah, I agree completely.
Doug: Yeah, totally.
Weirdly this makes me. I wrote a book about writing after trauma, and one of the guiding metaphors there is the idea of the prosthetic, right? That something gets amputated and you need to write a replacement into existence. But you're not writing the original into existence, you're writing a tool that helps you live. This is basically what we've been calling “practice” in this conversation. But practice, and composing, and being “at it,” can be a very helpful tool to getting out of bed, as opposed to not getting out of bed. And I'm currently in the process of trying to get a documentary made and one of the things that came up, you know, with the people I'm trying to make this with, is this question, which I'm feel very uncomfortable with, which is: “Do we want to find out what's under the prosthetic?” Which is another way of asking: “What are you hiding with all this activity?” Now, I have this impulse to say there's nothing there, everything is just activity. Because, that's my ethos at this point, right? “I am not the musician who makes music and the music I make is an expression of that, the music I make is the only thing there is! There is no sub layer to that or top layer to that, it's just what I do!” And so I'm very nervous about giving any kind of transcendent meaning to what I feel very passionately about as being only an activity.
Right, but on the other hand, when you described Sacrcity’s music as this tundra, I was: “Yeah, that's also true.” That we lift all these fragments in the air, we kick up all this dust, we participate in the activity of trying to move that might culminate in the successful communication of that movement, but it's also possible that what it communicates is: “There's nothing going on, everything is empty.” And I have to live with that. I have to live with that thought. I don’t know what I think about that, you know? For myself, I would say: “Yeah, kinda. Not everything is empty, but empty is a very big part of a lot of things.” Empty is a very important thing, not the most, but a very important component. But anyway, it just made me think of that.
Usually I end with a set question that now feels redundant, so I don't know if I feel like asking it. But I'll ask it for the sake of rote repetition.
Doug: I see what you did there.
It's literally what I did, see? [laughs]
[People laughed more, good times]
Sorry, OK. So considering the fact that the album was recently released and written a couple of years ago, we know – I'm including myself in your company for no good reason – that once something gets released it's way past your interest in that thing, right? It's already been done. So given the fact that Aveilut is dead, is there anything, other than those we've discussed, that you feel especially happy about in making it? It could be, you know, a specific song movement, a choice, the cover art, which by the way is amazing. The name, whatever. Anything that you know even now when you're probably doing your next thing, looking back at it, you say: “I'm happy I did it that way.”
Doug: Yeah. I think that when I look back at it the thing that I am happiest with overall is the fact that I managed to shut up for long periods of the record, which honestly, it's not always my approach, as a singer. We were talking earlier a little bit about some of my other bands, Pyrrhon, Seputus, Glorious Depravity, in particular, and those bands, the music is very information-dense and very compressed, and, as they say in certain sports, I'm kind of playing in a phone booth. I'm navigating as a vocalist around very tight, claustrophobic structures and the level of intensity is typically very high almost all the time. With a couple of exceptions, like some spacious parts. But a lot of it is this hectic assault where in order to match the intensity of the environment I'm singing a lot, writing lots and lots of lyrics. It's just very information dense.
So, after years of being in those bands, that's really become a lot of my instinct as a vocalist. And that approach, I think, would have been completely inappropriate for this record. And I was a little worried that I wasn't the right choice of person to sing on it, because I tend to put my foot on the gas and don't let up too often. But I was thinking about this a lot when we recently performed this material live, in particular, that so much of why the vocals work the way that they do is because they're not there most of the time, but it's really only select moments in which I'm doing much of anything, which is an unusual feeling for me. But I just really like that part of the record, that it gets to breathe more, instrumentally. Not to put myself on this level at all, but it makes me think back to that Swans show, where it was so effective having individual members of the band walk out and turn something on and then go away, and not do anything, and just that negative space that is being filled on Aveilut by all of the compositional choices in that my sort of pointillistic guitar composition style. I just really liked that part of the record. It made it fun to record it, made it fun to perform. So that's one thing that I got out of this album that I don't normally get to do.
That's great, I'm very jealous of people who know how to leave negative space. I have no idea how that even works.
Doug: That was my big concern: “Do I actually know how to shut up? I guess we'll find out” [laughs]. Turns out that with a little effort and focus, and a little editing, I can actually not be in the way 100% of the time.
Alright, that's awesome.
Brendon: Compositionally, this record was a culmination of a whole bunch of different things I've been working on for about 5 years. In a way what I'm actually happiest about with the whole process was finally arranging it back for a live band and then doing the performances that we did. That felt like it kind of full-circled the whole thing. The stuff that I figured out, like the tunings, and the reason there are so many guitar tracks, was because I had six guitars tuned a 12th tone apart basically, so every guitar is a 1/6 of a fret higher than the next one, and then figuring out how to take that and then translate it back into just two regular-ass guitars in some weird tunings. As far as the watchmaker aspect of this thing, that was one of the craziest, most technical things that I've really ever done [laughs]. It altered the way that I play the guitar in a way that I like a lot. I found a vocabulary that I also had not really ever found before. So, that's like the biggest thing.
As far as the record itself, I think we were able to give a lot of care to pretty much every aspect of the record. I really value that. I value that we were able to take the time to write our parts of it, and get the feeling really good, and then do the editing process with each other, have great conversations about the art and how to just make it all like work together. I think a lot of that is down to space, and time, and patience. Even just compositionally for myself, those three words that I just said – “space,” “time,” and “patience” are maybe the most salient aspects of the music, for me. Taking the most maximalist, [laughs], textured, and, in some ways, affect-filled thing that I could go for, but then trying to say: “OK, let's really be patient with these ideas. Let's really give these things time, and just see where they go. See what else is in them and what's under them.”
It kind of sounds like – not to be too “self-helpy” – that the bleakness of the pandemic kind of taught you space. The installment of space was a painful experience, because no one really needed that much space. But that might have had some kind of lasting residue or might have still, we'll see what comes up next, teaching patience and teaching space and not being able to rush into things because you just can’t.
Brendon: Yes, for sure.
Doug: I would hesitate to ever say that anything good came out of the pandemic because obviously big net negative, overall.
Doug: I would say that, having passed through that time in our lives, and this being the thing that we put energy into during that period, I do feel very good about that decision and very grateful to Brendon for bringing me into the situation to contribute to it.