Swirling Extremity: An Interview with Kostnatění
It's been a while since I just interviewed an artist for the sake of talking to them about music, and not, as is usually the case, as part of the Albums of the Decade or Pillars of the 90s series. But it's also been a while since I was as inspired and excited about a (relatively speaking) new artist and the absolute devastation of their upcoming album. I feel that way about the amazing one-man project Kostnatění, and have felt so since encountering their fantastic debut Hrůza zvítězí in 2019. I also, famously, lost my damn mind over their fucked-up renditions of Turkish folk music last year, an EP that I almost declared my album of the year. So, a fan. With the new album, Úpal, coming out via Willowtip next week, I thought it would be best to chat with the project's mastermind D. L., in the hopes that it would become an interesting conversation about music. And, happily enough, that's exactly what took place, as we go super deep into his fascination web of music, identity, and continuous artistic evolution.
Check out the interview below, support the band in any way you can, and brace yourself for the glory of Úpal on May 26.
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Do you remember a time or where, as a younger person, you for the first time encountered the kind of music that did something profound to you, usually in the surprised, scared, intrigued, shocked range of feelings? That really changed how you thought about music or redirected you towards music you never thought of in that way? And I always had the caveat that obviously this happens all the time because cool shit happens all the time, but I guess I'm interested in a kind of an early moment like that.
I thought I came prepared. I read some of your interviews leading up to this and I was like: “Oh, I have my answer perfectly ready.”.Now I've got to think about it again.
So, I think for me that that formative band is Slipknot, which may surprise some people based on how my music sounds. And it may also date me, or make people feel like I'm younger than I actually am. I discovered Slipknot later than when most people probably did, but I was about 13. I grew up in a really small, quite socially conservative rural town and I did not have access to broadband Internet, and so I feel like my access to counter culture was somewhat limited at that time. But, at 13 I found a guy at my school who introduced me to Slipknot, and he was edgy or whatever the hell you want to call it, and so we formed a sort of bond of kindred spirits and he introduced me to a Slipknot song, which I think was “Before I Forget.”
From that point, I really got into them. I remember buying the debut album from Walmart, of all places, loading it up into my Xbox, and playing these unmarked tracks – that album has some hidden tracks at the end, and reading through the liner notes and feeling like I had come across some sort of VHS tape from the back of a video store in the 1980s. I mean, it was like I was tapping into something that was completely outside my conception. It's easy for us to say in retrospect that Slipknot is just another mallcore band putting on a show, or that they just say pretentious crap that they don't mean, but I think, at the time, growing up in rural America, it was almost revolutionary to me. And I think I was able to hold on to the parts that I like about Slipknot and that other people would admit that they like about them, because then I rapidly discovered other metal music as well. I remember Looking for Slipknot songs on the radio and incidentally discovering Bathory, and Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth, just a couple years later. So, they were a part of my musical genesis, in a formative way. It wasn't like I discovered them and then had to disregard them because: “I'm into real metal, now.” They were along for the ride. I was listening to them alongside the black metal and death metal. I think even nowadays, and especially with my more recent stuff, that's something that I've tried to recapture. I mentioned this before, but that feeling when you first discover metal or extreme metal, you just can't comprehend it – so much is happening and you don't really understand why. It's just this feeling of tapping into something that you shouldn't be listening to, and that's something that I've really tried to hone in on for the more extreme parts of my music, in particular in recent years.
Were they your first heavy band or were you dabbling in it before?
I think you can say “first heavy band,” yeah. I listened to some Guns ‘n’ Roses and Metallica CD's that my mom had lying around, but those bands just didn't strike me in the same way. I don't consider traditional metal part of my upbringing, and when I do listen to it it's coming back at it from years of experience with extreme metal, which I think makes me a somewhat untraditional musician or listener of metal, in that I kind of fast-tracked straight to the more extreme side of the genre.
I guess that's how I feel about heavy metal. Because I started listening to the bands that were of the moment, thrash or death metal bands, and so I never tippy toed to that through something like Iron Maiden. I just started listening to those bands. And then when I realized everyone around me was into Iron Maiden and stuff like that I went back and listened to it, but it was a very strange experience because I was like: "Wait, but this weak shit."
It took a while for me to realize what parts of those bands I liked, but it wasn't "it." And I feel like that's a big gulf that separates me with a lot of metalheads that assume that the most elementary, fundamental thing you need to is Iron Maiden. To me it’s not. But, I'm interested because when I got into the nu metal thing when I was a teenager, and the band that kind of shocked me in the same way was Korn. And the reason I raise this is that Korn’s selling point, other than you know all the bullshit dreadlocks and hip hop beats, was this sense of emotional sincerity, right? That you were listening to Korn and they were talking about real shit: social rejection, confidence, and abuse. And when Slipknot came along, I was like: “What is this pageantry? This is not what I'm into.” So, I'm interested because…. When you said “Slipknot,” that did not shock me, because I can see a lot of that in your music. A lot of "everything going on at once." But were you at all interested in the pageantry aspect of it? What you might call the “ceremonial” side of things? The unmarked tracks, the masks, all the extracurricular stuff? Did that have an impact as well?
Yeah, I think it did. I think there's a lot of natural overlap between the bells-and-whistles that Slipknot put on their performance, and what you see with extreme metal, in a lot of ways. Black metal from Scandinavia in the 90s in particular, but even nowadays, I mean, there's so many things that musicians do that are essentially abstraction layers, right? That's how I think about it: referring to yourself only with initials, drawing from a wide variety of themes that are very far outside of what goes on in day-to-day life. And I think Slipknot was kind of tapping into that same sense of mystery. And yeah, in retrospect, it's all kind of goofy and gimmicky, but I can't hold that against them because I see that sort of activity is fundamentally creating the same sorts of extra-musical attributes that metal plays to very naturally. I don't see it as a “betrayal” of the genre, in that sort of way.
Even the bands you mentioned…. I mean, Cannibal Corpse would not necessarily fit into that, but Behemoth and Bathory, to an extent, are the kind of bands that build on something being larger than life – very big personas, the stage performance is big. In Bathory’s case there’s the imagery and the lyrics. They're not talking about being bullied at high school, right? They're talking about big things, and you can say “Well, that's an escape from reality, that's fantasy” or that sometimes people who live, for example in rural America, don't want to think about their life, they want to be projected into this completely foreign thing. That's fine, that's part of it as well. But there's also that…. I don’t know if “spiritual” is the right word, maybe "abstraction,”as you said, maybe those provide a way to de-personify the artist. A way to make art that isn't about yourself, it's about something that is human or horrible, or whatever. So would you prescribe yourself to any one of those options? Is it fantasy, is it escaping yourself?
All of it? [Laughs]
[Laughs] No, no, no. I'm just trying to take in what you said there. I like to think of myself as a pretty down-to-earth and realistic person – I have been for a while and I think I've just been shaped to be that way. I think that accordingly I don't find much appeal in fantastical elements in music nowadays. That stuff was cool when I was younger, but that was never the reason that I was into a band like Slipknot, for example. The music was first and the imagery was sort of secondary, is kind of how I see it. So, I see my music as very realistic, very secular – it just gives you the world as it can be perceived with your own two eyes, and you have to make of it what you will. That's how I've approached it for a long time. But now talking through it, I realized that there's a lot of elements of my music which are also still somewhat detached from reality in a sense, which is the variety of musical influences that I've introduced into it. For somebody who grew up in rural America, had some amount of resentment over the lack of cultural exposure that they had, and then responded to that by creating this project that is completely immersed itself in various different cultures, almost as a rejection of what I grew up in. I think that could also be seen as a sort of fantasy in a sort of way. Thematically, I definitely focus on….
Yeah, absolutely. real shit. The stuff that’s right in front of you. But, I still like to tie in things that are new or unexpected, but not conceptually unexpected. Not something that you have to think really hard to perceive as even being real, but rather a different perspective on a different part of the world that you might not know anything about.
Yeah, I have a question about that that's a bit, I don't know, complicated. But there's a simpler preamble to that, which is what's the deal with the Czech and Turkish? I mean, I can understand, given the fact that you've used, at least you know in certain instances, musical influences from those areas and, and so I can see how that makes sense with what you’re doing as a musician. But how do you even get there?
Yeah, this is a question that I've pretty intentionally dodged up until this point.
[Laughs] I’m sorry.
No, no, you're good. I like you enough to give you some form of an answer.
I appreciate that. I just want to add, just to make you feel better about you answering, that the point is not this ,the point is what is what comes after your answer.
So I see all of that in somewhat separate buckets. To address the Czech thing first, and being a little vague about it: I've always seen my music as a synthesis of things that I like and have wanted to interact with. I very much see my music as an extension of myself. And so I incorporate different ideas, cultures, philosophies that have some meaning to me, and Czech is one of those, and has been for a very long time – Czech culture and Czech language, that is. It keeps a very important part of me close to my music, and it's admittedly been challenging, especially as the project ramps up in renown, to continue to move it forward to keep that momentum. Staying authentic to that part of myself and what I want to get out of it. But, ultimately, I think that just reflects a broader theme throughout my life, which is that I've always just been kind of unforgivingly unique and idiosyncratic. I just wear whatever I want to wear on my sleeve, and I don't care too much about whatever somebody thinks of it. And so if somebody isn't going to listen to Kostnatění because they can't read the lyrics – even though I give you English translations of the lyrics in the liner notes – that's not really my problem anymore. I’d like the quality of the music to stand out to such an extent that you have no choice [laughs], because other people like the band and eventually you have to go: “OK, the Czech thing is kind of weird, but I want to know what the hell’s going on here, so I’ll check it out anyway: no pun intended.
Yeah, I've heard a million of those at this point.
I’m so sorry [laughs]. I find that very interesting for many different reasons. I think I can understand why you say that as the project ramps up in renown that becomes more of an issue because… So, when I was first introduced to the first album it may have been in the broader context of Mystiskaos in mind, and so that made perfect sense because I don't read Icelandic anyway, and I don't know what Hafenstein is on about half the time, and I'm cool with that. In fact, I'm happy with that, because it gives me these levels of abstraction that allow me to just enjoy the music or the experience. And so when that album came out, I was like: “Alright, whatever, they're expanding into the Czech market,” and I just assumed you were Czech. And that was OK. I didn't go to Metal Archives and see that you were from the U.S. or whatever, whether that information was available at the time. I didn't care. Much like I didn't care what Alex Poole had for breakfast when I was listening to Skáphe.
It's the kind of experience that, to me, and I actually had this conversation with someone recently, that there are certain kinds of aesthetic experiences that just don't tempt you that way. They don't ask you to find out more about them. But, I can understand how when more and more people know about who D. L. is, so when that begins to become an issue and might begin to feel like a forced choice, right? Like: “Why am I this dude from here doing that?” But, I think it works. And interestingly it made me think of Liturgy. And one of the things that's interesting about them as an entity, right from the very beginning, is that every time they felt that they were being cornered into any kind of preconceived notion of what kind of music they do, they intentionally fucked with everyone. And this is something that came up in an interview I did with her: that a certain part of her artistic choices were made to back people away from entering the realm of aesthetic decision making. Does that make sense?
I think it does, yeah.
If they felt like people know what we are now and they expect the next album to be this, then fuck them! I'm always filled with a sense of glee when that happens, like: “Oh, yes! Someone's going to get pissed over this!” And I guess, to an extent, the language and culture thing, the fact that it's kind of alienating and weird, and it's frustrating, I guess that might serve that function for you, just as a distancing thing, right? Like: “This is mine! You can do whatever the fuck you want, think what you like about it, but I'm signaling to you that it's mine.”
I resonate with that in part. I don't know if there's anything behind the Middle Eastern influences other than it being a musical tradition that I've been in love with since college, and so it's followed me for many years. But, I do think that you're kind of striking at what I believe to be the ethos of the band, which is continuous improvement: Calling things done and moving on to whatever the next thing is. I feel really good about this upcoming album, I think it's by far the best thing that I've ever created personally as an artist. The next album is already recorded, and it sounds very different. I won't give any spoilers at this point, but if somebody listened to this album and said: “This is the greatest thing ever, I want Kostnatění to do nothing but this from this point onwards!” then they will be very disappointed. Because there are some very, very sharp twists coming to the sound quite soon. And that's how I kind of approach music: make your statement, and move on. I don't want to be an artist who is resting on their laurels and releasing five albums that are slight permutations of the same thing over the course of a decade. It's just not how I approach music.
And actually when I think back to some of my favorite artists…. I tend to focus on albums rather than artists proper. Like, sometimes I will just hear an artist's album for the first time and I just obsess over it, and I learn all the details of it. And then as soon as I hear any of their other stuff, it's like: “Well, this doesn't meet my standards, because it's not X or Y or Z,” because they're still iterating in relation to a single idea that they've put down. And some of my favorite bands have completely stepped outside of that paradigm and said: “You know what? We're just going to try something wildly new with every album.”
And I think that's why something like Rhinocervs, the record label, has appealed so much to me, because they released multiple albums every year, and approached each one as if they were writing for an entirely new band. And of course it helps the the music is quite good on each of those, but there was no moment for me to be like: “Well, RH 12 doesn't sound like RH 11, and RH 11 is the only one I like, so I'm going to disregard all the other releases.” They all had their own unique value statement, to use an unfortunately corporate term. So, I think that's something that I'm trying to introduce into my music as well. I have ideas for the fourth album as well, based off of an artist that I have grown to like a lot, and it's completely outside of the metal paradigm, but that will probably change the way listeners continue to interpret my music.
My first reaction to that is – and I’ll share my reaction to the new album, which I've already heard a couple of times today – which is that something about….. So, there's this bad side of narratives. I know this is very wide reaching, but narratives have a bad side and that narratives set expectations to an extent and they act out repetitive structures and people guess kind of look and go: “Yeah, I know where it's going” and this also applies to narratives of artists’ discographies, right? If you follow a band, then you love a couple of albums, and then the next album doesn't isn't that great, and the narrative is they're not as good as anymore. Which is an OK narrative to have, but it's completely false to how art works. No one makes an album thinking about their previous album. Most people that I know and I know about myself, not in music, the thing you just did is the least important thing to you, in life. The thing you are about to do is much more interesting. And so, that creates, maybe not a narrative, but a series of instances of self-expression, reactions, whatever. And so if you don't like some of them, that's fine. But there's no story here, right?
Think about one of the monumental stories in modern black metal, right? Ulver turning electronic. Thirty years later, people are still getting fucked up about the fact…
… that the band they liked, who, it should be noted, even when they were black metal were never the same kind of black metal in all of their albums, so there was variety there as well, and yet people are still fucked up over that. Because it's a story, right? It's a drama. But no one owes you any fucking thing. So the rare thing is that people manage to pull off the ability to kind of shut off whatever it was that was good about the previous reactions, your own feeling, and do a completely new thing. It's all very rare. It's not like a lot of people pull that off. It's a very rare thing. But when it happens, and here I get to my reaction to your album, it produces in me a sense of joy. So, I was one of those people who would have been OK if the first album was all you did, and I would be extra if all you ever did was cover Turkish folk songs for the rest of your life.
I would have been super OK with that. And I heard the new album and the first thing in my mind went: “Well, it's not that.” And the second thing was “Hell, yes!” I don't want to get all gushy here, because it's a very uncritical position to be in, but I love that. I love it when people create a variety that feels real, authentic, and expressive of who they are, of their interests, whatever, but it's just not the same. And the fact that someone created something that you love, and that you will manage to forgive them for not doing it again is a feat in my eyes. You have a very rare thing going on, which I guess has to do with independence of mind, not caring, or a kind of exploring spirit, or ADHD or whatever. Whatever it is, it’s a blessed, beautiful thing. That's my review.
Make of that what you will. OK, so I had a couple of questions but I want to return to the question I still owe you from before about prodding about the Czech, Turkish thing. One of the things I've noticed, and you actually said it yourself, is that you're a very pragmatic guy. You're a very kind of down to earth person, and it's very evident in your choice of themes and how you approach music. It's all very “it is what it is.” I mean, we’re talking about black metal here, for the most part, and black metal has been known to death to delve into the spiritual, and that's not where you are. But what I find interesting is that perhaps the combination of a few things: The fact that you're American, the fact that the American culture and spirituality, at least from the outside looking in, and the notion of what happened to different ideas of spirituality in Europe, how they migrated to the States, and so on, they different from Eastern Europe. This is an issue that came up in my interviews with artists in the past, such as Charlie Looker, Lingua Ignota, and Liturgy, namely in the idea of reintroducing the body as a site of meaning.
Because, famously, and I don't want to go into the whole thing, but American spirituality isn't necessarily about the physical form of worship. And, conversely, there are forms of spirituality in which ritual and objects are very important. And so one of the things that I thought about, and this might be the reach of all reaches, is that your albums are about corporeality, in a very in a very death-metal way, right? Because death metal is much more invested in: “We all rot and turn to skeletons” than black metal tends to be.
So, I was wondering, are we talking here about “I'm a down-to-earth person, so I just call it like I see it, and we all turn into a sack of shit and bones when we die.” Or is there a hint there of saying: “ That's not a nihilistic statement. That's just the world.” So, I wouldn't call it spirituality, but maybe a meaning-making system in which there's actual meaning and worth in seeing the world that way?
Yeah, I think that statement resonates with me for sure. You know, I think it's no surprise that, thematically, I've allied myself more with death metal bands and their view of mortality as a thing that simply is. There is no fantastical occult life beyond what we perceive. It just begins and then it ends. I'm not declaring that. I'm not trying to determine anybody's spiritual beliefs, and I'm not trying to make any definitive statements about how the universe is, but this is how it's perceived, in my reality, at least.
When I think about how that intersects with my worldview, it's definitely not a negative nihilism. This is an area of ethics and philosophy that I'm not super well versed in, but the phrase “positive nihilism” resonates with me quite well. I find myself striving to make the most of a world that doesn't have a purpose underlying the surface. That's something that I've never struggled with, to be honest with you. I've never had a feeling that there needed to be more going on with the universe itself for me to do incredible things and. I don't know if those themes will ever be touched with this project, specifically, I think so far I focused a lot on a more cynical bent, and that's easy because metal is aggressive and perhaps some may say almost pessimistic by nature. But I think with some of the ideas swirling in my head that will take time to truly come to fruition, I could see that shifting a bit.
Some of the lyrics on as-of-yet-released material are almost more just anthropological musings from a – I don't know exactly how to put it – but, not judging…. Like, for example, I'll just spoil some stuff here, but one of the tracks that I've talked about from an as-of-yet-released album, its working title is “Churches were the Skyscrapers.” And the way that I've thought about it is that in early civilization the church was the highest point in the entire town – the steeple could be seen from any point in the town limits. It was the gathering place, it was where everybody congregated, it was where social connections and familial connections were made. And as we've moved into a different social system, where capital is more and more important, you've seen the rise of these gigantic skyscrapers. And of course they're very different in form and function from a church, so it's the idea that what does that look like for man or what does that look like for humankind looking up to the sky and seeing not a religious figure, not a steeple pointing up to heaven, but rather this big concrete block that is basically where thousands of people pour into it every day to to work at an office computer and then flood out from it. And what does that mean for human society? So, just things like that. I don't think there's an inherently like “The world is going to crap because we don't go to church anymore” sort of thing [laughs]
I didn't suspect that, yeah.
But I think that there are a lot of interesting perspectives that can be brought into metal, with some of the same base ingredients, but not trying to make anything bigger than it is.
I agree. The two projects that I just brought up before, which obviously don’t have anything to do with what you do, musically, Lingua Ignota and Liturgy…. Liturgy kind of has some overlap with what you're doing, musically.
But, in any case, I'm pretty sure that they look at a certain form of spirituality as being both a source of great inspiration and very starkly different from whatever it is that they're surrounded by, spiritually. Especially in terms of capitalism or secularism, all that stuff. But also a lot of despair. So it's not a one-note thing, it's not a “I see the world for what it is – oh shit!” or “I see the world for what it is, and hedonism, or whatever. It's just this complicated thing that is both negative and positive, but has that inkling, which I guess I'm asking you about, that is, I don't know if uplifting, or inspiring about it. That you're looking at this world rot, and this body rot, and you're seeing inspiration there, and source material for art, not just shit rotting.
Yeah, I hear what you're saying. I think…. Sorry, I'm taking a moment to collect my thoughts.
OK, that’s fine.
I feel like “uplifting” is not the word I would use to describe the process that I undergo with my music.
Yeah, it was a bad word.
But I think it's fair to say that, through immersion in these topics, they are reinterpreted. And some may call that something like a spiritual belief, or spirituality. To me there's nothing but secularism in my thinking, right now. So that's the only way I can describe it. It might be relevant to know that I come from a long genetic history of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and it's something that I've come to terms with quite well nowadays, to the point where it doesn't inhibit me from doing anything I want to do with my life. But, intrusive thoughts about death and the feeling of sinking into something infinite that's completely beyond your conscious comprehension – not from a Lovecraftian horror perspective, but, just that that's simply how it is. Through that mental disorder that's run through my family – and I have had my struggles with it as well…. You know, the overthinking aspect of it naturally produces very deep and rich thoughts that can almost resemble something spiritual, in a way, and so maybe that's why when engaging with them, even if it's about something very down-to-earth and practical, like the fact that we're all going to die one day, that’s how it becomes something bigger than what it is in my head.
So I can see the argument that I'm still playing with something spiritual, it's just under the guise of being secular and detached, when, in my head, these ideas are clearly larger than anything that I'm actually observing in my day-to-day. I mean, I don't think somebody could come up with the sorts of chord structures and ideas that eventually became songs like the new single off of the new album: They are such dense, illogical, horrendous, and sometimes ensnaring thoughts that I can definitely see the comparison being made to a more spiritualist approach. And ultimately the effect of something like that is that it's trivialized. Something therapists will tell you when you're working through Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is to just expose yourself to it until the thing you're trying to avoid has no more impact. And so, when I was fixating on death, when it was detracting from my day-to-day life, I simply threw myself into it. And that's what became Hrůza zvítězí, eventually. I think that still is in play with a lot of other themes in my music. It's simply the culmination of a very dysfunctional or distressing thought until it's simply how the music sounds.
That's a great description of at least some of your progressions, right? Of how some of your songs work, they kind of repeat the same idea – with a difference – to the point where it doesn't make sense anymore. And in aesthetic musical terms you have terms for that, right? You could call that “repetitious” or “droning” and you can describe how people react to that, that it's like a trance, right? I talked about repetition with Oranssi Pazuzu, and their whole take on repetition is that they don't want to think about the song anymore. Or, that they don't want you to think about the song anymore. They want you to do something else. They want you to kind of let go of something, and join them for something else. And so these are obviously not the same things, because obsessive thoughts and droning thoughts, or whatever, they're not the same texture. But it could have a very positive effect for people who are looking for that kind of thing. And I think it's very interesting, because I know that, I, as a listener, am looking for that, because I know that about myself.
One of the interviews I did where I tried to kind of crack why it is that I like music that is kind of relentless with the same-thing kind of idea, was with Ben of The Dillinger Escape Plan, and we both shared our shared love for Megadeth, which is my band. Like, that's my band. And he described it in terms of ADD. Something to the tune of: “I can't, in life, do one thing and be OK with it. It has to be ‘alright, what's next?’ I'm tired of something very quickly. And so my music looks like someone who has ADD. Because everything has to change very radically for me to keep me in it.” And so these are all kinds of shapes of this similar idea, and I think that in terms of OCD, I don't know the shape or the symptoms of how it operates in your life, but I do know that a big part of OCD for some people is the objective world, right? Objects and things, and so when you have something like a recurring thought pattern that is triggered by a thing, that's a very unique relationship with the world. Things have a power over you that isn't an angelic or majestic or you know, it's not God. It's not fucking Odin, it's a door handle. And I think that maybe that's part of it as well, the physical world is related to your thoughts or is affecting your thoughts in a way that is other than other peoples’ relationship with objects or things, or life or whatever.
I will make the clarification that there's the idea of thematic overexposure in my music, which is somewhat distinguished from how I approach the actual riff writing process. I would say that your description of The Dillinger Escape Plan there is actually quite similar to how I approach music – I want to make something that keeps you consistently engaged. I want you to feel like you're watching a musician show you new tricks and you're watching the sleight of hand, wondering how it all happens before you. And so in that regard, I would actually characterize my music as very active in general, although I think I buck that trend sometimes. For example, there's a deliberate effort on the new album to make the A side, the first four songs, very flowy. Probably you noted more Middle Eastern influence on those tracks. And then, of course, the B side, the last three tracks, are much more aggressive, punchier, just a lot more violent.
Another thought that I have, and I don't know how much this reflects in the music, but it's a way in which I engage with the world. It's just like the world, as presented, being inseparable from the agents that perceive it. Martin Heidegger kind of touches upon this idea of Dasein. And I think that's something that's really powerful to me: accepting the power of an agent in the world and the ability to affect it, and realizing the things that you can and cannot affect and the impact that you can realistically have. Which I think also ties back to the secular practicality that I tried to speak to in my music.
Given everything we just said, I want to talk about the EP for a second. That's a very unique undertaking. Not only unique because you chose, shock of all shocks, Turkish music and we can talk about that and how, say, certain tonalities feed well into the metal aesthetic, that's an interesting topic in and of itself. But the undertaking is interesting also, because you basically took existing songs. And you did something to them, right, which isn't…. So, black metal isn't jazz, there isn't a “standard notion,” right? And I, I would say even black metal is the opposite of jazz in that way, even though there is a standardization of, say, second-wave black metal, but still, it's frowned upon to just do the thing. And you basically took songs from a different, you know, cultural register for whatever reason you wanted, and you did the song. And so my question about that would be: what did you learn from that?
My first thought is, just from a sheerly musical perspective, not even philosophical, which is that that one of the primary goals of that EP was to get the muscle memory of the scales involved in Turkish music built into my hands, so that when I went to write chords it would feel like a natural extension to then proceed off of that musical scale as I went to create my own music. You know, I think it's pretty obvious, well, it's obvious to me, that I did things to those songs. I changed them, I added riffs that were not part of the traditional songs. But the goal was, ultimately, that I could create a black-metal style narrative with those songs, which are, if you you're familiar with Turkish folk music, it typically doesn't progress in that sort of way, at least not musically. The lyrics may tell a story, but there's usually just a short few repetitions of a couple different musical lines. And I was trying to take those and re-present them to a black-metal audience and say: “Hey, this shit is really cool. Check this out!” And so I would say I succeeded in that regard.
So, those are the most salient in my head. And I would say they worked very effectively, because I was able to take a lot of what I learned from that exercise and apply it to Úpal very effectively, almost more so than I expected. When I realized how some of the melodies that I had written, how it felt so much more natural to write in a time signature that wasn't 4/4. I mean, I would be willing to wager that half or more of the first half of Úpal is in a meter other than 4/4 or 3/4. For example, I want to say the third song, “Rukojmí empatie,” the main riff from the start is written in alternations of 10 bars and 9 bars, I'm fairly sure, I may be mixing it up, which is kind of embarrassing to say about your own music [laughs]. But that's the point, is that I wanted to incorporate those elements into my musical vernacular through intense study, while also creating something in the process. A lot of my favorite musicians, they don't receive some stroke of vision, that then they just execute perfectly with no outside input. It's a learning process, right? They're incorporating new skills. One of my favorite musicians and somebody who I'm thankful to call a friend, Theophonos, ex-Serpent Column, and now in a project under that same name….
Yeah, I was just thinking about him, because he mentioned it in the interview I did with him that he that…
That he learned The Synarchy of Molten Bones and Paracletus by Deathspell Omage, and that that revolutionized the way he played guitar.
I've had similar breakthroughs from other artists, not for Úpal. It's something that I strive for going forward in my music, which is, that you need for a thematic basis. You need something that reallylike gets you out of bed and say: “Oh my God, I resonate with this. I'm going to execute on this vision.” And then you also need additional skills that you can bring, to actually prevent yourself from rehashing what you did before. So, again, like the third album has some elements that revolutionized how I played and I can give you some more details on that off the record, if you care to hear. And then the fourth album, I haven't begun writing too much for it yet, but it was also inspired by another artist that's going to completely rethink how I've been making music up to this point. So, I would say the EP was in service of that overall goal.
This all kind of connects to what we were talking before, in the very abstract: If you're saying that you're the kind of person who thinks about life or sees the world in a very physical way, then it makes sense that learning new music or introducing new influences into your music requires your body to do something, right?
It's not just you checking out a couple of records, right? There is this ritual that the body needs to be a part of that you can then imprint that influence into your music physically, right? You know, you know what I'm saying?
Yeah, I agree. You know [laughs], this may be a secret, but I don't like playing guitar that much.
If I'm not actively writing music. I never just play my guitar for fun. Sometimes it brings me joy, but other times I can go months without playing, and it suits me just fine. And it's only when it's time to actually write new music or come up with new ideas that I'm finally like. OK, let's get this piece of shit out [laughs] and pick up some new skills on it so I can make something that actually sounds good.
But that's fucking awesome, right? I mean it sounds negative, but it's not. It's saying: “I need to go hit the gym, and I hate going to the gym!”
Right. Purely practical in service of a better outcome, yeah.
Yeah, it's really funny this makes me think of my grandmother. Who, who just turned 89 and, who always, you know, cooked my favorite food, right? This is like the cliche thing about grandmothers. She's Hungarian. So, she made my favorite food growing up, and she hates cooking.
I don't know why…. I mean, I know there is this thing when you grow up and you realize that you are to an extent – I wouldn't say regimented – but you are very influenced by whatever happens in your home, and your brain interprets whatever happens in your home as either normal. or love or good, even if it's bad, because that's just the way we are. And so I think I've internalized this idea for my grandmother, that you can make the people you love happy and it doesn't mean you have to enjoy it. The two can coexist. You know what I'm saying? That it's not just a positive that breeds a positive, that there’s this negative aspect to it, even with family, and love and giving, that produces a positive, but it has to go through the negative. So, you and my grandmother both make aesthetically pleasing things for me – I mean, she doesn't cook that much anymore – but you're in that group, I guess, together.
[Laughs] Yeah, and to be clear, it's really just the guitar playing that I would put in that category, I love composing and arranging music. I think if I were a composer and I could somehow translate the riffs that I have in my head to guitar, without having to touch it – I would love to pick up the process where you already have everything recorded, maybe disparate riffs, and then you're just trying to arrange them into something different.
Like a collage.
Yeah, and that's one of the ways that I write music. I mean, I don't have a solidified process, but one of the ways that I've been writing recently is collecting a bunch of small sections, and then continuing them naturally where they make sense. So, like: “I have a 20-second riff here, and I bet it would sound really good if I just like completed the musical sentence, so to speak,” but then arranging them in terms of where they fit within the narrative of a song. So is this an intro riff? Is this like a bridge riff or is this like the climax? And then I just throw them all in a pile together, and as I'm writing music, I just pick from that pile and assemble things that way. Then you do a second like look over it and add things in where it makes sense. You make things less repetitive. Lately I've been taking a top-down approach, that Theophonos also takes where you will add elements in from across the album from across your broader musical repertoire to create self-referencing allusions. One example of that is like the last song “Slunce svázáno s krvácející Zemí” – what a mouthful [laughs].
It gets going, and it has this super-punchy bit, and it feels like it's about to get going, and then suddenly everything cuts out and it's just the left guitar channel, which is playing what I consider to be the most iconic riff from the demo, all the way back in 2018. I don't know if anybody's even gonna pick up that that's the same riff, but it's there, and if you recognize it then it's just a fun little moment.
That's the track I wrote about in my notes: “Closing track, veering into melodeath” [laughs]. So, that was my take on that. But, actually, the process you described, interestingly enough, is, if I am to transpose it into my world, that's just editing. You write paragraphs, and sometimes they don't work with each other, but you keep them. And then you put them together, and it's kind of like a Fankensteining, and you're not happy with it, and you go over it. And that would be your, say, second draft. And the more advanced version of the draft would be to go back into it with a more holistic view of what you want to do in mind, and create a narrative – this is what you called “self referential.” You create a narrative that not only takes in the song, for instance, for what it is, but also makes it as if you have always composed that song as part of a grand total of songs, right? It's almost this artificial predestination thing: You're making it into a part of a greater whole, even though it began as just parts on the floor.
Some people might think that's hokey, like you're manufacturing nostalgia, or something like that. But no idea is created linearly. No author writes a book starting with the first word and then just stream of consciousness it straight to the very end. Unless you're James Joyce writing the last part of Ulysses. I don't really take as much shame at it anymore. I think that listeners want to hear familiarity, they like hearing the same thing in different contexts. And this is another thing I was going to say earlier, that something that I really like in music, which is really goofy and you might not expect, is mashups of one instrumental track with a different vocal track. And you can find plenty of examples of this on YouTube, but just like taking the vocal stem from, I don't know, “In the End” by Linkin Park and then placing it on the “All Star” by Smash Mouth instrumental.
I love those. There's that Bill McClintock guy, who's a genius with that.
Yes, and just like hearing how the emotions change, and your mind trying to adapt your associations with what you know about these songs. But the actual parts are from a different context, and so like it creates this weird “uncanny valley” of familiarity and unfamiliarity that I find really novel. And so, I've been really eager to jump into that same concept within my own music. So, going back to “Slunce svázáno,” that's not the only self referencing bit within it. There's a riff there that was taken from the previous song, “Nevolnost je vše, čím jsem,” and you'll also notice that the finale is the same as the finale of the first song. So it comes full circle in a lot of ways: It's the end of the B side, which it references, it's the end of the album, obviously, and then it's also the most recent statement from the total project. So, I see it as a nice moment of, say, you're writing your manuscript by hand and then you just slam a big fucking period on it and you say: “It's done!” [laughs].
[Laughs]. Yeah, because it feels like an ending.
Because it's also the beginning. But, never mind. But yes, it feels like an appropriate ending. It's very interesting how I always find myself in the same kind of predicament: I have a dumb question, and then my last question which will be less dumb.
So, the dumb question has to do with the drumming. I assume you're in charge of that as well, but each album has had a different drummer. I mean, Jacob [Buczarski] isn’t really the drummer, but, basically. So, was that intentional? I ask because I'm very big on drums, I think drums are like the most important thing in the universe. Drums are the beat of the of the cosmos [Editing note to self: God, Ron, really?]. So, what was that? Is that like a thing where you say it's going to be a different person every time, or it just happened to be that way?
That happened by circumstance, I would say the ideal would be to have a committed drummer who can perform, mostly in line with my directions, on each recording. I think when I released Hrůza zvítězí I didn't have as many connections within the scene as I do now. And so I didn't really have – I like to call them meet-space drummers that were willing to dedicate their time and effort to my music, or at least not for what I was willing to pay. Then working with Mystiskaos I had the opportunity to work with label funding and that allowed the connection to Jack Blackburn, who did a phenomenal job on the Turkish EP, but he had other obligations and wasn't able to commit to Úpal. So, I suppose I just make do with what I can find. Drummers in metal are a very constrained resource laughs]. You know, you ask these people who are at the peak of their physical and musical capability to dedicate their time to one of the most niche genres of music imaginable, right? You have to refine your skills to the highest point to be able to play this album that's going to sell like a fraction of the copies of what you could do if you just kept a steady 4/4 beat and played it for some pop rock band in the studio.
So, I think it's pragmatic. I don't know if the future of the project will lean toward me having a dedicated drummer. It would be kind of cool actually to become familiarized with somebody, and to have our styles play off of each other. But I usually have a really good idea of what I want a drum section to sound like. One that I was really proud of was that that 4/3 polyrhythm on the bridge of “Nevolnost je vše, čím jsem,” where it kind of feels like a droning African folk rhythm, and you've got dueling guitar noodling on both sides. But, that was something that I came up with myself, and I don't know that would have gotten that if I just came to a drummer and I was like: “Hey, come up with something.” So, it's a process, right? You know, actually, now that I think about it, I think my long-term vision is to be able to play it myself, and then, from the studio aspect of the band, I could make it entirely, purely a one-man operation, at least in terms of the instruments being performed. I don't know if it's just because I didn't have many friends as a kid and didn't learn how to play well with other people [laughs], but I think there's this idea of complete artistic control that's really appealing to me. And I can see how that wouldn't really inspire the participation of a drummer that has the skills to play the sort of music that I'm.
Having said that, metal drummers, good metal drummers, as scarce a resource as they are, I'm pretty sure at this point they're used to one-man projects that just tell them what to do, or at least who give them a very specific or rigid layout in which to operate.
That may be a fair point, yeah.
The last thing I wanted to talk to you about is, funnily enough, and maybe it's because I haven't done a general just “talking to someone” interview in a very long time, is a couple of themes that I really haven't talked about in some time that I used to kind of obsess over. One of them is isolation. We kind of touched on that a bit, when we talked about where you grew up and how that may have or may not have influenced your musical taste and your take on what counts as “foreign” culture foreign. And you just mentioned the fact you're not growing up with a lot of people, or at least not a lot of people who felt connected to having to do with music. But a lot of the times what I talked about when I struck upon isolation as a theme was that it’s something I relate to, because one of the themes of isolation is that you're in the periphery of something else. It's not just that you're alone and maybe there aren’t that many metalheads in your high school. It’s that too. But it’s also that you don't matter, in any significant way, to the scene or the culture. And so obviously that has its downsides, because I guess everyone would love growing up feeling like they were cool, or related to something or have some kind of influence or pull or whatever. But, on the other hand, I've found that a lot of the bands I like, and sometimes whole national scenes, kind of feed into that sense of isolation. In the sense that it breeds a very idiosyncratic taste or artistic position.
And so I guess the first part of my question would be to ask whether you feel that's the case with you? Whatever it was that isolated you – who you were and where you were – helped build a very strong sense of what it is you want to do?
Absolutely. You could have been describing my entire childhood with that series of sentences. You know, I'll share some personal information here, because I think with a project that's so personal it really gives you a sense of where I'm coming from. So, I did not grow up in Minnesota, actually, I grew up in rural Western Tennessee, which is – not sure how familiar with the U.S, you are – but it's in the southern U.S, and it's historically….. The biggest city there is Memphis, which is the the place where Elvis Presley got his career started, and there was a lot of…
And Three 6 Mafia!
Yes! And the Memphis rap scene, absolutely. I was just blasting Mystic Stylez the other day. I love that stuff, unironically.
So, it's a relatively impoverished area, has mostly agricultural-based communities and is very religious and very conservative. And somehow I was not raised particularly religious, my parents were from a different area and they chose to treat me like a blank slate group with religion. And so I engaged with it, and then disengaged from it on my own terms, when the time was right in my life. So that was the background for what happened in my life, which was that I lived in the same home county and district of the U.S. within Tennessee for my entire childhood, I switched school systems multiple times, which prevented me from having a consistent friend group, and some of that was because my parents thought I had potential, or whatever, and so they were pursuing what they thought was the best opportunity for me. But some of that was I was expelled from schools, private Christian schools, because I was making too much of a ruckus and they didn't want me around anymore. And there may be something to be said about being a racial minority within the context of a small, rural place like this.
So, for the last four years of my childhood I was home-schooled, but not by my parents. I was home-schooled through an online correspondence system. So, you want to talk about somebody being raised by the Internet, imagine if you took school through the Internet – before COVID before that whole thing. That was my reality growing up, being in my bedroom, in a house, in the middle of the woods, the closest town is five kilometers away, and it's still only 3,000 people. And if you want to go to a city of 600,000 people, that's another 100 kilometers away. So just very, very isolated, both in terms of my social connections – I only had one or two friends that I still kept in touch with from my hometown. And so there was a lot of just redefining myself in that period, and not only just discovering whatever crap on the Internet, like staying up until 2 AM, reading Wikipedia articles about God knows what but…. It just really changes you. There are so many cultural archetypes that I just cannot relate to. I mean, a lot of things that people say about high school, like playing a sport or something like that, I just have no frame of reference for anything like that. And I feel like that's a big reason why I've become as idiosyncratic as I am. And at the time I hated it, and in some ways I still resent it…. Like, for example we never traveled anywhere, we never went on vacation. So, it was really just me in this house, and all that, for a very long time. But now I travel very extensively, as a rejection of that.
But, in the process, it forced me to define myself, because I had nobody else to define myself in relation to. And also, you know, growing up on the Internet, a lot of my friends were older, they were in their early 20s or mid 20s when I was like 14 or 15. And, talking to them, I've learned a lot about the world and how it works and got a lot of advice about just the way that things are in a way that I feel like children don't usually get when they're socialized in a normal way through high school and talking to people their own age, discovering the world at a rate that isn't vastly accelerated. And so, yeah, I could have become a billion things. I don't say that as some sort of brag, but I think like just the way that I was raised was so strange and so unconventional that I'm not really surprised that I am making black metal and that, honestly, I'm good at it, you know? It wasn't all great. I can't say that there are things about my upbringing that I don't regret. But, to have such a unique experience that does not involve, obviously, horrible things like persistent abuse, and then come out on the other side, you're going to have a story to tell, and that's kind of how I've approached it. It seems like people are interested in the things that I have to share, so I keep sharing them.
I mean, it's not just that you have a story to tell, I think that you need the story. I mean, going back to what we talked about before, about the pile of riffs – there's so many loose bits and pieces, there's such a lack of a coherent narrative of self, that your relationship with stories is just different from other peoples';. Because, I mean, just as a random example, people usually find it interesting that I can't read or write without very loud music. Because, most people can't concentrate when they're listening to your music, right? But I can listen to your music and it helps me focus so I can read and write much better than I can without it….
Are you saying I can get funding from the Israeli government to help people with dyslexia? [laughs].
No. I’m not saying that at all [laughs]. That is a hard "no." Unless there’s some very rich endowment for freaks, but I doubt there is one.
But what I explain to people is that part of it is noise cancellation, right? That there's so much noise in your headphones that other distractions kind of go away. But mostly I really do feel like my mind is filled with very loose beads, and what music does is kind of takes a thread and puts them all together, so I can have a beginning, a middle, and an end to my thoughts. And I think, in a way, when your life is fragmented – this is actually my actual research – when your life is fragile and broken, what stories do, or what art does, is make them into a whole. Now is that whole pretty? Is it cohesive? Is it enjoyable for most people? Those are other questions, right? Because the whole that could make you be able to function might be something that for some people will be very jarring, weird art. But it does the work for you, which is what matters. I guess that's my very long-winded comment on the idea that if you suffer abuse or if you go through all this shit, it’s that you have a story to tell. I think it’s that you have to have one, otherwise it all falls apart.
I agree with that. Who knows if I would have even been forced into this situation, where I have this narrative that's seeded through my life, if I had a very standard path. And that's not to say: Oh, I need to create black metal because I'm such an iconoclast or whatever you want to call it, or far outside of, like the social standards. I think it's been a process of repeatedly evaluating that. And, you know, you smooth out what happens to you over time – there's a wide array of experiences that you then attempt to construct into a kind of cause-and-effect, very clean narrative, from that perspective. But, yeah, I agree with that a lot.
I think that’s true, what you just said, I just want to add one little bit, having to do with why you would choose to incorporate riffs from an older demo. Because that's one way of adding an echo that says: “Yeah, I did actually move on, I am a different person, but not all the way.” It's not just a sign or a signifier of “I'm this large artist that makes magnificent statements,” it’s also a statement about progression that always hinges on aspects of you that don't necessarily change or don't need to change or kind of are the way they are. It has a darker side as well. It's not just making things “complete,” I guess.
Right, it's acknowledging that you know both the good and the shitty parts of your life, and making peace with them. As I push to make Kostnatění more and more like a singular repository for all of my musical ideas regardless of mood or expression, it needs to reflect kind of who I am as a person more and more, in my opinion. When I first started with the first demo it was just: “I like this sound. I want there to be more of this sound.” That sound being the Rhinocervs or Odz Manouk influence. And then, as you start piling more of yourself into it, it starts snowballing. Now I'm making allusions to my mental state in these songs, now I'm making references to my real-life experiences. And at some point it just all has to come along, right? And so I'm not trying to hide anything with my music, at this point, which is maybe not a very black-metal way of doing it. I don't especially like this artist, but are you familiar with A Pregnant Light?
I am, yeah.
So, he's absolutely giving everything about his authentic life and his music, even down to the aesthetics, which are just photos of him, which is a complete slap in the face to this idea of anonymity and secrecy in black metal. And I think that feels like the direction that is most consistent to me as I move more and more towards, as I think about the project being a pragmatic and secular expression. It's no longer about “I'm hiding things from you,” it's literally just life as it is, with all of its blemishes and sores. And you can choose to engage with them and realize just how depraved some aspects of the world around us are, or you can disengage from it entirely.
This is one of the reasons, one of the many reasons, why I think style, what people usually mean when they say “style,” is a profound thing. Not in an attempt to force a full circle moment here, but I think this also corresponds with the whole conversation about seeing the world for what it is and moving the body to learn the music and all that stuff. Because from one perspective, style is a very vapid, superficial thing, right? The repository of gestures and qualities that is superficial to the thing itself. The thing itself is really what's deep inside, and feeling, whatever. But really style is who you are as a person, right? Style is how you react to things, style is how you take them in, style is what you like.
And initially when you listen to something like Odz Manouk and you can say: “Oh, there's something about that I feel connected to, and so I want to do something like that or incorporate things of that into my music. That's fine. That's cool. Everyone does that. Everyone first attaches themselves to something they like. But then once you know you like that, something happens and it can't stay the way it is. I mean it, it obviously can, but for some people it just can't stay there. Because you're learning more about what your style is. And also learning that you could actually produce it. You could actually do things in the world that reshape you in a very profound way, not just in: “I chose this riff, so I guess that's a cool song now,” but: “This is who I am now.” I love that. I love that. I love that about music. I love that about art, in general.
That's also why I like asking that question I began with, because when people tell me this is what I instinctually attach myself to, what I read into that is that is that, OK, so that tells me about what you like, and that's a huge thing to know about someone. Right, especially if you prod them further and ask them, why is it that you like that? Or can you see yourself? Doing those same things in your music now? One of the examples that comes to mind is Toby Driver from Kayo Dot talking about how he loved hearing Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight on the radio. Kayo Dot has nothing to do with Phil Collins really, but there is something deep going on there. There's something profound about, you know, loving the way it sounds, the darkness or whatever, that I think people need to know that shit about themselves. I think it's a very important thing to know about yourself. What is your style? The things you like and what kind of things you produce? Maybe I'm babbling. I just think it is the best.
I really like that. And I think I like the idea that it's almost a dialogue, if you're an artistic type. I gave that example earlier with Turkish music, where I wanted to gain these scales. And now sometimes I'll just try to play like death metal or something like that and it sounds kind of like Middle Eastern just because that's the muscle memory now. And it's like: “OK, I. Guess this is a part of me now.” I thought it was just gonna be like a fun little experiment.
Yeah, there is no such thing as a fun little experiment. Because the whole concept of it being a fun little experiment is that whatever style of music you make or art has nothing to do with who you are as a person. It's just something you do. And that's not the case. Whatever it is you do is who you are. You can take that knowledge and run with it, or you can rediscover yourself when you make new albums and new songs and learn new skills. That's fine. But what you're doing is basically continuously tracing who you are.
I would agree with that. And I think that kind of goes. Back to what I said at one point about wanting the intense parts of my music to make people feel like they did during these formative experiences, if they happen to be somebody's formative experience, that's great. But, really, the goal is to tap into what are at least for me those primal first memories of association with music, to try to figure out what makes it so mystical, and to to take that and to propagate it. I wouldn't be surprised if other musicians who have created really visionary works of art have also been approaching music from the same way because I don't think that great music is entirely just: “Oh, we mixed the right ideas and just followed a formula, and, oh, this one worked really well.” I think there has to be some sort of “oomph” to it. There has to be something driving you to complete this and bring it specifically into the world. And so I think you're right on the money with that.
This is unrelated, and perhaps unnecessary, but I would say you're successful in this. What I said before about listening to the new album, and feeling, at the same time: “Nope, this is not what I wanted” and “Yes!” That is a very rare feeling, I think you could call that joy. I get that when I listen to Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, probably my favorite black metal album of all time, and that’s what it gave me, right? It gave me that kind of feeling because you feel like you're in the presence of a person who's making stuff as opposed to a bunch of sounds that are “yes” or “no” appealing. You're in the presence of someone, a real person. That's what I interpret that effect to be, that whatever it is that I am in the presence of iIs a human being doing crazy shit, and I can't get enough of that feeling. I can't. I mean, that's why I, every day, go on the most recently released section of Bandcamp and hit all those play icons, waiting for something that will make me feel that. Because it's such a huge part of how I operate. And it’s the reason why I write a blog that five people read, or whatever.
That's it [sigh].
D. L., I'm sorry for subjecting you to this, for the last one hour and 46 minutes, but I'm very happy.
Oh no, this was awesome.
It was awesome for me.