On a joyous Tuesday evening, I spoke to the incomparable Trey Spruance, leader of the Secret Chiefs 3 and member of an assortment of other musical entities. After having released the so-called “Geek Pack”, containing the individual stems for each instrument, as well as production notes, in an authentic “behind the scenes tour” of the song Bereshith, I attempted to contact him so we could discuss this new release, future offerings by the Secret Chiefs 3 — a “band of bands” with its 7 built-in sub-bands, each personifying a different style of music, a different attitude towards recording and, ultimately, a different function within the cosmology of the group.
In a painfully brief attempt to define how Trey’s group has operated, starting on 2004, the records released by the band known as Secret Chiefs 3 have in fact become “snapshots” of different configurations of the sub-bands in relation to each other over time. The way Ishraqiyun, UR, Traditionalists, FORMS, Eletromagnetic Azoth, Holy Vehm and NT Fan present themselves in one record is wholly different from their presentation in the next one — compare Book of Horizons (2004) and Book of Souls: Folio A (2013), for instance. There are whole records made by a single sub-band each as well; so far, Traditionalists have released a soundtrack for an non-existent movie named “Le Mani Destre Recise Degli Ultimi Uomini” (2009) and Ishraqiyun have displayed their brand of neo-pythagorean folk rock — with dashes of geometric sound explorations called Tessellations–in Perichoresis (2014).
In our interview, Trey revealed that he’s preparing two (!) new releases by the sub-band Holy Vehm — which explores the darkest and extreme sides of music, having so far been found in only two tracks of hideous death metal in Book of Horizons — and Folio B, the second instalment of the Book of Souls album that came out in 2013. This will be a new chance for us to witness the aforementioned sub-bands, as well as the electroacoustic theophanic mix-ups of Electromagnetic Azoth, the grinding organ dirges of FORMS and the 4/4 surf-rock of UR. Find out more below!
Considering the process of recording Bereshith, shown in more details in the recent Geek Pack released by the Web of Mimicry, and seeing as how different instruments in its arrangement come from different sections and a multitude of line-ups and players are involved, how do you make the bargain between the original idea for the song and the final result? Are you mostly guided by intuition or are there other conceptual tools at play?
I’m definitely the most stubborn person you’ll ever meet when it comes to translating what [a musical] idea is and putting it into a final form. That’s why it’s totally common for recordings of different musicians to come from three or four different sessions — before the overdubbing, even. In terms of the rhythm section alone, getting a different band recording the same song in different sessions, that happens because of an incredible stubbornness on my part. I want to be as faithful as possible to the original way of hearing something. You can only go so far in translating that to musicians and, sometimes, the chemistry between musicians actually playing might be stronger than someone who has total fidelity to what I was hearing. That’s rare. It happens though, like in the rhythm section with Ches [Smith] and Shahzad [Ismaily], it happens sometimes that, very naturally, something will happen there that I want to build upon.
Usually, you can’t really expect musicians to get it, not really all the way. So, you can tour it, and tour it to death, play it, make it natural, get everybody used to it — then you’re going to come as close as you can to having it be there, unless you’re having them play along to a track that you yourself created. I do that sometimes too. But when you want to have that more organic band feeling to it — even though it isn’t, it’s a fucking Frankenstein if there ever was one — I simulate the life of a band by putting together frankensteinian body parts that do have a life. They came from sessions where a band was playing. They’re not isolate little bits where the drummer does just this one little thing. I do that too, but I’m keeping it specific to Bereshith and Ishraqiyun in general. The performances are organic unto each player because they’re playing with a band — they’re playing the way they play with a band, not the way they would play if they were overdubbing.
And, even when you’re frankensteining together, those things matter.
I think one of the tracks most notable about that Frankenstein process is the Tabla track. In fact, considering the session window we can see in the Geek Pack, I have to ask: are all those edits just fades? Is that you going through each hit and timing it to something else in the track?
Yeah, it’s just crossfades. That Tabla track came from a performance with Ches and Shahzad, whereas the rhythm section that ended up on the track Peijman [Khouretchian] and Jason Schimmel. So, totally different session, totally different tempo, totally different concept of the recording. I had to reconcile his [Mike Dillon’s] performance with a different rhythm section. However, he was still playing as if he was playing with a band, because he did. It’s my job to preserve the integrity of his performance — hence the thousands of edits you see. Again, it may seem like this insane perfectionism thing, but when you look at it, it took me like 1h30min to do it, to use this remarkable, perfect performance and get it to fit in this other context.
There’s one other thing I’ve got to say too: it’s not just the musicians and the musicianship that is part of that decision; it’s also the recording. The recording of Peijman’s drums at Prairie Sun Studios with Billy Anderson, just slayed. It was absolutely perfect for that song — and for a few of these songs, actually. That sound was very right. The whole band had just gotten out of a tour together, recorded the next day, and Billy Anderson was our sound engineer the whole tour. Those things count too, that shit really matters.
Talking business for a bit, how would you compare the experience of working with Bandcamp online releases versus the previous approach of releasing vinyl 7"s? Did you find people responded well to it?
I probably have a different answer than most musicians, since I run the record label. Let’s put it this way: in 2007/2008, when vinyl was still kind of a rare thing to be going on… yeah, putting out a bunch of 7"s and then doing a few tours in a row, the finances on that worked out great. It’s worth it to press a thousand of them, you’ll sell out of them. It’ll be good.
Now, in this day and age, when every single band in the world is doing vinyl… the 7"s still sort of work, but they should be coupled with a tour. Since I’m not doing a tour, it really didn’t make any sense to press vinyl of these things. So, in the interim of the time in which I’m doing all this fucking recording, unbelievable amounts of studio work, in the interim time, how should I release this stuff? We had the Bandcamp thing laying around since 2008, I thought “let’s try that”. It worked pretty well. I’ll say this: I think the music was really fucking strong, so I wasn’t worried about that part of it; rather, whether or not leaving the physical dimension behind completely was warranted. I wasn’t used to that idea, but now I’m totally fine with that.
It’s a hard thing for fucking Generation X people like me to wean ourselves off of our association of a musical piece with a physical object. Especially the artwork, that I put a lot of work into. The thing is, Theodor Adorno was right. Music only came to be associated with physical objects with the mass production of phonograph records. This wasn’t a thing before that. So it’s not like we have this ancient thing hardwired into ourselves as musicians. Music has always been this translucent medium that penetrates us, there’s nothing in between us, it goes through us — and the object actually gets in the fucking way.
I’m not going to say that the tech world has somehow solved this problem at all by putting everything away into this digital format, but, I can say that I weaned myself off the idea of being attached to the object. It’s bullshit to be hung up on that.
We’re more and more in a world in which the physical crap we drag around with us becomes more and more cumbersome all the time.
*Facetious* And with the singularity coming up in a few years, we can start thinking about drop everything off for it as well…
That’s the thing too. We’re supposed to be lightening up the load? This is the shit I hate more than anything, I don’t want to play into the singularity by getting rid of CDs or not doing physical objects anymore, the part of that that I hate is playing into the post-human fucking age. But I’ll get back to the Adorno thing: since when were these things supposed to be associated with physical objects? When music became a commodity to be bought and sold. Now we’re buying and selling binary ether. It’s ridiculous, but that’s what’s going on.
On the System of the Antichrist single… That cover art sure is intriguing, what with Trump, Obama and others huddled around. There’s even the guy from Paypal, right?
Yes, Peter Thiel! The vampire. Let me be straight: I don’t see any of these people as being inherently bad people. I’m not saying that because I don’t want to insult anyone. There’s Obama and Trump there, both. That’s the point: it’s not to take sides on something.
Right, all of these people are at the top of the world…
At a card table. Twelve people sitting around the card table. By the way, that photograph is taken from a casual shot during the filming of the original Ocean’s Eleven. So you should know that — it’s a fucking casino. You’re sitting at eye level with the horizon of the table.
You have these forces at the table, that’s spinning widdershins — counter clockwise — like a roulette wheel, making an analogy to the counter-initiation or to the fact that you’re being sucked into a vortex of imposture and you don’t necessarily even know it, but you become addicted to the gamble, to the game. It’s the system: the house always wins.
The written portion that accompanies the single is quite well written. Do you consider having somebody do a spoken-word version of that text?
I do intend to, yes. I want to extrapolate some of these things, maybe in written form and accompanied by images. I think the music tells it by being this big-band rat-pack-era casino music, essentially. It has this espionage feel, but I was really going for the rat-pack, Vegas… not sleazy, but dark, violent, there’s some mafia connections in the background… it’s supposed to feel like that.
One of the faces on the table is Julius Evola, and his esoteric writings are included among the recommendations for Grail subjects, as seen in the Web of Mimicry’s Museum Without Walls. He’s recently gotten a boost by being associated with Steve Bannon, who works on the Trump administration, and has been commented on as being a peddler of fascist philosophy. How does it feel to leave one of his texts in the group’s bibliography regardless of that bad rap?
I’ve never endorsed Julius Evola’s entire oeuvre. It was pretty well focused on the hermetic tradition book. I’m not afraid though — the image of the [System of Antichrist] cover has a very interesting symmetry, because Aleksandr Dugin and Putin are standing next to each other and Bannon and Donald Trump are standing next to each other also. The way it’s constructed, you see Putin is really satisfied with what’s just happened on the table, and he’s looking to Dugin. You can see Trump is pissed, and the way I’m interpreting it is that Bannon is looking across the table and appreciating the move the other guys just made, while Trump is still pissed about it.
The games that go on are like that, in the sense that there aren’t really loyalties, which brings us to Evola. In his argumentative structure, when he’s talking about the religious affiliations and observances of African people, he automatically puts that in a lower category — which, according to his own theory, which is all about initiation and intergenerational observance of a metaphysical principle, passed on for generations from hand to hand… These things take place more in Africa than in Europe! It’s very ridiculous of him to be looking down his nose at the continent to the south of where he’s sitting when he’s actually been sitting at a world that was, at his time, crumbling and decaying for, arguably, 600 years. It’s strange for him to take the haughty position of “we’re better than all the savages to the south of us”.
He’s inconsistent, but there are some parts of what he says that the people who call him fascist are also involved in a kind of fallacious assassination of him. For example, they associate him with the Nazis, and while he was associated with them, yes, his main thing was an argument that their racism was too biological. It was based on biology, which, to Evola, was a lower order consideration than what he’s considering, with the metaphysics of it. His main criticism was for the theosophical society, the way of looking at it as a spiritual race, then reflected by a biological race. This is something that the Nazis certainly picked up from the theosophical society, and Evola was very critical of that. Yeah, it may well be that it’s because he was a total racist in that sense. He wasn’t racist in the sense people accuse him of, in fact, he was accusing the Nazis of being “lowbrow” racists, which is very interesting.
His book on hermetic tradition, though, is very well put together and it’s the most well thought-out book on the subject. Take his personality for what it is, I mean, I don’t like it. When I was reading “Men Among the Ruins”, I was laughing at just how stupid half this book was. That doesn’t detract from the strength of his hermetic tradition book. You just keep in mind that some of his foundations are pretty suspect — no question about that.
These guys are incoherent on the subject of race in general. I’m not saying this from a liberal-ish standpoint. I embrace diversity in a true sense, in that I want the world to be diverse, not one big happy world government family kind of thing. I love going places and have there be diversity. I hate going places and seeing San Francisco manifesting itself 8.000 miles away.
About something from many many years ago… Apocatastasis. There were rumors about this thing, it may have been an opera or not, an orchestral work, electroacoustic… This is your turn to say what was that thing and whether we’ll see it again in the future.
It’s funny to hear your question and think about what the word itself means. “Will it be something? What will it be?”. Formally, this word is a platonic/neoplatonic idea — more so than a doctrine — of eschatology, the end of time, being actually the collection of every possibility. If there’s a probability, any probability of anything happening, any subject of any type… Once every single thing has played out — this is a monstrous idea, which Borges must have hated and loved at once, of a library, an archive amassing itself out of time, so that every single possibility, every permutation of DNA, every parallel time, everything comes into existence and then, once it’s all played out, everything snaps to eternity. Essentially like a computer having data fed into it and then, once ALL the data is amassed… That’s Apokatastasis, it switches from time into eternity at that moment.
So, to be asked of when it’s going to happen is hilarious. That’ll actually be my final answer on that!
Recently, your composition Seraphita was played at Esterhazy. It was interesting to me that you adapted a Balzac story and, around the same time, the SC3 Facebook page posted these images in French with something that looked like witchcraft texts. Are you going anywhere with that France connection and would you like to talk a bit about the concept of the Seraphita piece?
I probably encountered Seraphita first through Henry Corbin, who is also French. I can briefly state that Seraphita isn’t entirely based on the short novel of the same name by Balzac. Seraphitus/Seraphita is an androgynous and angelic being in the novel and Balzac had been reading lots of Emmanuel Swedenborg at the time he wrote that. Essentially, out the five movements — which I think we are truncating down to three, I’m not sure on the status of that yet –, two of them are Seraphitus and Seraphita, the male and female aspect. Then you have what I call considerations. I’m basing them on titles of books, but what the piece does is drawing up a bunch of relations between a number of scholars and writers that had Seraphita in common, let’s put it that way. So, Mircea Eliade, Peter Klosovsky, Gustav Meyrink, Corbin, of course, and even Gershom Scholem, the great cabalistic scholar, who was friends with Walter Benjamin who wrote a piece which is one of the titles. All of that is woven together, the Benjamin title, the Gustav Meyrink title, and then there’s this background with three comparative religion scholars, Eliade, Corbin and Scholem, that are sort of woven into the matrix behind the whole thing. It’s really about their obsession with this androgynous angel figure.
The first Bandcamp single from your recent onslaught of releases was UR’s “Telstar/A New Daylight”. Is there a calculated thing being using UR as a sort of spearhead for SC3 releases, matching the surfboard pointing upward in the artwork and it being one of the most prominent sub-bands live? Feel free to comment on that single itself too.
The easy answer to that is that UR is an easier thing to, let’s say, “score a hit” with. It’s all 4/4 music, recognizable song forms, Surf Rock… That sounds like a cynical way of putting it, like “here, you guys will like this, it’s stupid”. [laughs] But, to me, it’s the most challenging, production-wise, because you don’t have all of these interesting elements that are inherently fun to listen to. You have to bring the thing to life through production, so both of those tunes are really about the production. They’re very lively-sounding, obviously. So if I’m doing a Bandcamp release, something without a tour and without a physical thing, it better have something very strong going for it. For me, it was a natural way to go.
Telstar was obsessing me at the time. I had been reading a lot of Paul Virilio, and it occurred to me that he was talking about… I don’t want to get too far into that, because it ruins a punch-line for something else. Let’s keep it at that. I had an arrangement of that from 2005 and figured it was time to do it.
On Book of Horizons, Eletromagnetic Azoth had some stuff mixed in from Ishraqiyun — like the excerpt from The 15 during DJ Revisionist –, but on Book of Souls Folio A, it seems like the function of Azoth in SC3’s scheme of things changed completely. Potestas Clavium could even be mistaken as a FORMS tune, perhaps. At the same time, Scorched Earth Saturnalia lacks the organ — a major FORMS element. Since FORMS and E-Azoth are two really complex sub-bands, I’d like you to comment on that change of approach from one album to the other.
Well, you notice that there’s no Holy Vehm on Folio A. A couple of things are getting confused, some wires are getting crossed. It’s good that you noticed Ishraqiyun with EA in BoH, because Eletromagnetic Azoth is essentially connected to FORMS and Ishraqiyun in a way that those sub-bands mirror each other, whereas UR and Traditionalists are connected in a different way. So, the themes that you hear in traded with FORMS and EAzoth, it’s happening the same way that it’s happening with EAzoth and Ishraqiyun on Book of Horizons — it’s just that now, with the absence of grounding, Holy Vehm, that exchange is kind of getting fucked up.
That’s interesting, because in the scheme shown in the booklet for BoH, Holy Vehm is at the bottom. Does it serve the “earth” grounding purpose in the group?
Absolutely, yes. If they were attributed in a cube, it wouldn’t be that way. In the way that you’re thinking of it and looking at it, though, it’s the right way. No question about it.
Ok, so Nottingham Turd, Noddingturd Fan, NT Fan, ?… Did that actually come out of you being the sole Turd fan in the world (Turd being the project with Mike Patton and Trevor Dunn) and could you just comment on the show at the Stone with Eyvind Kang and Jessika Kenney? I asked Jessika about the thought process behind it, and paraphrasing it was a “cynical look at growing up in California and at the edge of civilization, the occidental edge of things, and how it messes with your mindset”.
That’s great that she said that! Well… In reference to how she characterized it, if you think about the geometry of civilization, everything has been going in this westerly direction for God-knows-how-long, at least in our minds… In the story of the USA, there’s this idea that you have to drive the white people over land, getting to the sea passage, Lewis and Clark, then you have to exterminate the Indians, set up camp, there’s the Spanish-American wars, populating California, taking the land from the Mexicans… there’s all this stuff. But all of that is just the later part of the gravitational compression of all this civilizational pressure. Where is that leading to? Nowhere! We get to the Pacific Ocean, then what?
Then it’s looking at Japan. Maybe the way I was thinking in the early 90s, when NT Fan was really going was… What’s there? If we talk about avant-garde music in terms of Progress, and Progress is this Western expansion SHIT, then the avant-garde is what, exactly? The tip of the spear that goes into somebody’s heart? Or… Ok, you hit the wall, now you’re at the Pacific Ocean. Where do you go? We keep being in the front of something, we keep deconstructing tonality, we keep making more and more dissonance and pretending to ourselves that “that’s beautiful”, we transvaluate absolutely everything, reconstructing our mind until we’re completely crazy hordes. Instead of saying “I love ugly, crazy dissonance”, we say “oh, but that’s beautiful”. We’re re-wiring our fucking brains.
So I’m standing there, looking at the West, watching the sun set on the land of the rising sun. We call it that, but that’s if you’re looking at it from the other fucking direction! That’s not where I’m standing. The only rising sun that’s coming up from Japan is a mushroom cloud, right? At this time, the noise bands were going. This was the hey-day of the fucking noise bands! If you want to deconstruct music, you can take it down to this microscopic level of, you know, destruction on an atomic level. But that destruction is totally inhuman, you can’t really relate to it in terms of, you know, punk rock, body slamming… There’s no corporal aspect to it, it’s total obliteration.
So the way the Japanese noise bands did noise music was really inherently different. It was serene, somewhat. There’s bands like Masonna that were jumping around and doing violent stuff, but you had this overwhelming inactivity, this overwhelming absence was just very fucking powerful. I saw that and I thought: “That’s an eraser. That’s a gigantic eraser, if you really want to get to the END of the western expansion and all that, there it is. That’s the end of music, that’s the end of fucking everything”.
To me, NT Fan is the encounter with that. It’s the encounter with “NOW WHAT?”. So Jessika is exactly right. That’s exactly what it’s about.
That gig at the Stone was… in spirit, the first NT Fan gig was in 1992, organized by Grux with just Eyvind and me. I’d got off a hell storm — even people experienced with Noise music were just leaving, getting the fuck out of there. It was horrific. I always try to be very true to the feeling of that.
Also, you have to think of it in this transcendent terminology because bodies are obliterated in a nuclear cloud. If what you’re trying to do is destroy in the Nietzchean sense of, you know, “let’s tear down everything and start over”, the way this western expansion mentality always seems to think, or if you’re going to be progressive like “tear everything down and start over! Tabula rasa!”. I mean, really? If you’re going to be serious about that, you’re going to end with something very different than a Utopia.
So, with NT Fan I try to be very clear. In an encounter with the transcendent, if you’re expecting it to be this nice thing and you’re bringing all this fucking baggage with you to that encounter, you’re going to have a very different experience than what you’re expecting.
This does bring to mind some Holy Vehm lyrics.
Holy Vehm, NT Fan and Electromagnetic Azoth are all in the same line. NT Fan is at the uppermost antipode, Holy Vehm is at the lowermost. You could say Azoth is in the middle, but I’d say the relationship between those [sub-bands], in a hermetic sense, would be that of the Sun, the Moon and Saturn. The traditional role of Saturn is not to be the outermost planet, so much as it is to be the barrier between Time and Eternity. We return to that, and NT Fan occupies that inscrutable place. Whereas the Sun, you see it from any direction — it’s equidistant to all the other bands, they all revolve around it. The Moon is mysterious, it receives its light from the Sun but there’s this dark part that you can’t ever see, and it contains, in that shadow, everything that is ugly, violent and repressed.
You’re now saying that a full-length of Holy Vehm is in the works. There was some suspense in the press release in that it’s release or lack thereof would depend on funding from the bandcamp sales — can we be optimistic about that?
Oh, it is happening. It is a matter of funding, sure. Right now, on my plate, I have the record for John Zorn, the 3rd Masada book, which is a pretty big labour. There’s a deadline on that, so I have to dedicate myself pretty thoroughly to that. Of course, I have been working on Folio B, but in the meantime, I’ve been actually developing 2 different Holy Vehm records. I thought that one of them was farther along, but it turns out it’s the other one that’s closer to completion. My work priority is, once I’m finished with the Zorn record, I’ll prioritise getting Holy Vehm done before Folio B. I’ve gone back and forth on that a couple of times, but the Holy Vehm is closer [to completion]. It’s a huge left turn, something very unpredictable. Throwing something like that out there will be unprecedented for SC3.
Then, on Folio B, there’s going to be Holy Vehm too. It’s going to be quite a Holy Vehm-centric slew of releases.
Will the Holy Vehm material include Unhuman’s vocals?
I’m diversifying, but… It’s hard to answer that question, because he’s confined to Quebec. He really can’t come into the USA, which really sucks. If there’s ever going to be a live band, we’ll have to do something about that. As far as recording, yeah, I love to work with him, absolutely. But that’s the last part. What’s tricky and big about this record is the choir, a whole huge choir thing going on. Nothing to sneeze at. Reconciling huge death/thrash metal with real choir… it’s a chore.
I guess that’ll bring us even bigger Geek Packs, since we’re still only on level 2 of complexity if I remember correctly!
Actually, as far as productions, the Holy Vehm stuff is a cakewalk compared to other stuff. A lot of the stuff on Folio A was really more complex than that, on Book of Horizons too. Things that are more traditional “band” type of thing, with guitar, bass and drums going all the time, that’s fucking easy. You know, when it comes to SC3, some of these things are easily 50 times more demanding than any band-kind of production. Ishraqiyun is much more band-like than, for example, Potestas Clavium — really, really elaborate production with a lot more going on.
In recent years, we’ve been seeing instruments like the Kinnor and the Nevel more prominently in some Ishraqiyun songs. There’s even a video of you, Jessika and Eyvind doing a song on it. How integral has that been for the Ishraqiyun process? Are you thinking of changing the Saz for the Kinnor or is it another useful tool?
Perceptive question! The Kinnor and Nevel, both, I don’t use them as normal musical instruments at all. I started with, basically, finger exercises. Not for playing, but for finger combinations to be able to do these finger patterns on one tetrachord — tetrachord meaning just four strings. But, on this instrument, you generally use 4 fingers, or 3 fingers and a thumb. I wanted to explore nuances of diatonic scales, which are built on two tetrachords. If you go back to the NT Fan stuff, that feeling of standing on a cliff after you destroyed everything and thinking “Now what?”, well, we forgot what a diatonic scale is. If you go into the depths of what a diatonic scale is and start making decisions on where your tetrachords overlap, you’re starting to explore the fundamentals of music over the last 2500 years, at least what turned into Western music — though Chinese music has a similar kind of concept to it. Since you have the perfect 4th and the perfect 5th, it’s natural that you’re going to use those as the outer barriers and fill in the notes with your other two fingers, right? That’s what’s going on with the Kinnor, which is pretty much like the Greek Lyre. It’s in homeric poetry, in the philosophy of Heraclitus… The reason this thing keeps coming up is because it’s the clearest exposition of musical harmony. It’s the best way to understand musical harmonics.
So I just sat with the instrument and, basically, when you see me playing it, it’s because I’ve been applying what I call the Tessellation process. It’s this way of coordinating your fingers to do these repetitive patterns that are… deceptive. Simple to the ear, but fucking annoyingly disorienting to keep playing. But I’m trying to conduct them into a three-dimensional rendering of music. I’ve been working at it for a while and I’ve been getting better at it. Saptarshi has a little tessellation going on to it. Perichoresis is a tessellation. There’s a new tessellation on the new Zorn record. In fact, the third movement of Seraphita (le Baphomet) is also a tessellation! It’s something I’m going to be doing more and more, but every time that comes up is because of the Kinnor.
I should tell you, I think it’s August 6th or 7th, Secret Chiefs 3 recordings will be headlining a festival at a venue called The Cube. It’s called Cubefest. It’s literally a cube, you sit inside it and you’re surrounded by an array of speakers and the music comes from a lot of speakers — I don’t know how many. It’s at Virginia Tech, a guy there approached me to do it. It’s cool, because this has been a dream of mine since I’ve started doing music — doing this immersive, 3D thing. If you can imagine I’m shoehorning all this information into these 2-speaker mixes, you can imagine it’s more three-dimensional in my original concept. The cool thing is that I’ll be able to wield 3 axes of space, like the cover of Perichoresis. I don’t know if I’ll be able to include Tessellations the first time around, but I’ll be working with this guy more and more and, hopefully, over time, I may be able to develop this Tessellation stuff into a truly three-dimensional rendering. He says we can create virtual speakers and have the audience basically sitting inside different virtual polyhedrons. If that’s possible, I can move instruments around according to exact tessellating patterns that are in the music. This could really fucking be something. That’s another thing on my plate, if you can imagine, to mix a whole set of this music by mid-July, another thing in the way of Folio B and Holy Vehm — but a pretty good thing to be in the way!
Do you think that could lead to exploring 5.1 surround recordings for tessellation purposes?
This is way, way beyond 5.1. It’s a serious fucking thing. It also goes up, you know, it’s crazy! There are all these psychoacoustic factors that come into play, which I’ve yet to experience but the guy is advising me on how to deal with some of it. Yes, what he’s trying to do is take it to Moog Fest pretty soon, probably SxSW next year, and SC3 would pretty much be a demo for this thing. We hope to be able to have concerts, maybe to have a repertoire of mixes already pre-assigned, and he can actually get coordinates of the spaces so, as long as the venue has one of these arrays, or some kind of an array, you can basically plug the music into that array. It’s pretty amazing.
I’ve heard of books 3, W and E as sequels for Book M. Is there truth or a future to that?
When is the last time you’ve looked at a flag of New Mexico? (laughs). What happens when you take an M and rotate it? This thing of 3, W, E and M is that, a tessellation. But if you’re asking whether there will be sequels to Book M… let’s put it this way: Book M occupies a unique place. We have the 1st and 2nd grand constitutions and bylaws, the trilogy (which starts with Book of Horizons and Book of Souls) and Book M isn’t part of any of that. It’s also not by a sub-band, right? Exactly. M is a great letter. It can mean a lot of different things.
Some people have been part of the way through the cyphers in Book M, to the point where you need a key to go forward from an e-mail account.
Yeah, that thing took such a long time for anybody to get there that I just let the account go dead. From there, there’s plenty of stuff — that’s only the 3rd cypher, and there’s 7. The way I see it is, as you can see, I don’t really take time, or the elapsing of time, all that seriously. It’s not that anybody should be in a rush to crack those cyphers. If I work on music as hard as I did on, say, 2nd Grand Constitution, and to get it right with no equipment, nothing good, no budget… If I listen to that record now, I still feel it’s right. The difference between doing something half-ass and going all the way is that you listen to it and you know when you did something half-assed — you don’t want to hear it again. All the things that I put the SC3 name on are things that are right, more or less. The same holds true with these cyphers and all this stuff. It’s a foundation that’s there, and there will come a time when it’ll be appropriate to refer back to that. It’s the same with the music. I’m actually often puzzled by the obsession of “is this the new record? I need the new!”. And I’m like “yeah, there’s new records, but you’re going to miss the foundations of the whole thing”. Because then people will complain that “it’s too confusing, there’s way too much crazy, all these sub-bands”… I won’t say there’s a beginning point, but there are fundamentals to the whole thing. So I like weaving things in and out of time. I love it. To me, anybody who’s frustrated that they can’t pass the 3rd cypher, I don’t want people to geek out that they’re missing the great puzzle. These things should be revealed in a graceful way because it weaves a whole picture together.
Did you hear of the boy who disappeared here in Brazil leaving all these cyphers behind? In his case, he did leave a key so that his cyphered books are transcribed and sold, and what people managed to decode was pretty much run-of-the-mill “The Suffering Thinker” stuff.
I did hear of that, and it did seem like it was mostly teenage angst stuff. I mean, not to detract from the effort. The thing that his family wanted to turn it into sort of a tourist attraction is pretty typical, though. It’s always a danger, right? Everything you do can be turned into a tourist attraction, something cheap and trashy. Turning your back on something, leaving your back to it and walking away, you can’t complain when people turn it into that. That’s what I’d say to that kid, “Nice try, but, you know what? Maintenance is important.”
Do you think that has anything to do with how the Word of Mouth forum ended? Not that you turned your back on it, but it had been devolving into some weird shit for some time.
Yeah, it was devolving for a while. I don’t know that there’s any one point where I was set off in a mad rush to turn it off. It was more like, “how much further down the toilet does this place have to go?”. There’s people that argue that the place was still great, that there was a lot of socialising going on, but it was on my doorstep. It wasn’t the type of socialising that I bear any relation to at all. It would’ve been uncouth of me to leave that going on at my doorstep when there’s visitors coming and this is what they’re berated by, this kind of riffraff that has nothing to do with me. It seemed irresponsible to just leave things in that state. That was the thing, I thought “OK, I know you guys, it’s not anything I have personal problems with, but I don’t want my visitors greeted that way”.
Are there any Brazilian culture elements that you’d like to discuss?
Sure! I’ve been to Brazil a bunch at Rio Grande do Sul, where my wife is from. I’ve gotten to know the Churrasco culture pretty well. It was pretty intimidating when I watched a real churrasqueiro, really high-skilled guy who owns a restaurant, and he taught me how to do it. Then, the next time I come around, there’s a house full of gaúchos saying “hey, you’re doing this shit now. Do some churrasco for us”. Can you imagine the pressure? Me sitting there with the espetos cooking for a bunch of Gaúchos? It was fucked up pressure, but it was great. We had a set of espetos here — we don’t have a great setting for the actual cooking, but with creativity you can figure out ways to do it. I use bricks — I stack all these bricks and put espetos on there. It works.
By the way, what do you think of Rogério Duprat?
Honestly I’ve heard his stuff, but I guess I should hear it more intently.
I’m always looking for the arrangers, I care for the arrangement more than anything. And Brazil is filled with incredible performers and musicianship, but you don’t hear much about the arrangers very often. In the case of Rogério Duprat, there’s just so much there. It’s not always my favourite kind of music, but the arranging skills are on another fucking level completely. From outside Brazil, you never hear about this stuff, so I’m lucky to have a bit of inside scoop on some of it.
My brother-in-law has also been feeding me some different obscure metal bands… Thrash Metal stuff. I’m really into the sort of hateful and raw period of thrash metal — more than the more pretentious recent Black Metal. For some reason, in terms of the early Thrash Metal that was really dark and fucked up, Brazil fucking leads the pack on the sickest stuff, by far.
You mean like Sarcófago?
Sarcófago, yeah, but Holocausto too — fucking amazing stuff. It’s my favourite thing I’ve ever heard in ages, it’s so good.
I should get back to Holocausto! I’ve been listening to Dorsal Atlântica again recently, actually.
Dorsal Atlântica is incredible! That’s psychotic, just the riffs and weird ideas… Later bands like Negura Bunget from Romania came along that do this type of weird, interesting harmonic stuff… Dorsal Atlântica is on that level easily, totally weird, really surprising, strange ideas. I love this kind of stuff.
I’m always amazed at stuff that happens in Brazil, and in other peripheral nations in terms of political economics, before they happen in the nations located in the “center” of the world.
I think you’re really on to something, because the reason I have this feeling about the early Thrash Metal stuff is because we were up in Eureka in 1985, reading the same shitty fan-zines, trading the same shitty tapes of all these early Grindcore and Thrash Metal bands… it’s the same shit that was going on in Brazil, the exact same culture. We were way outside, living in the middle of nowhere, so I really feel a kinship to that. The way it fired up your imagination, you were imagining “wow, when these bigger bands like Slayer play it must be like this”, and it definitely isn’t. You’re investing this incredible imaginary into it and I believe that’s where the best metal comes from, that sort of weird, dark longing. I think you’re right to say it comes from the “excluded”, the truly peripheral. I think the word “excluded” is right in this sense, because we couldn’t be part of anything due to being too fucking far. You had to make this whole dark, imaginary, angst-y universe.
And with Brazilian bands, I love reading the stories because like… one of the band members is richer, so he has some equipment, the other guys come by for rehearsals… that stuff is totally familiar to me. That’s where all the fertile imagination comes from, a situation that everybody’s in.
Let me get one thing straight from the past: how much did you guys prepare for the “Bister Mungle” Eureka Talent Show? And was that Mr. Bungle’s first concert?
We rehearsed one time for that, maybe two. It got really thrown together. But it wasn’t the first show, not even close! The first thing we did was a Death Metal show at the Bayside Grange — in Bayside, between Eureka and Arcata — on November 30th, 1984. The Talent Show thing was probably later in 1985. We were still in our metal-hood thing, and I remember Patton was playing electric guitar and he used only one finger. He could only play a minor chord if he just wanted to play 3 notes, otherwise he’d play 2 notes for a perfect fourth. That was incredible. I had never played Ska before in my life and those guys really wanted to play Ska. I didn’t have a feel for it at all in the guitar, and it took me a while to develop that. Patton was much better at the rhythm, doing the upstrokes, way better than me.
Speaking of Web of Mimicry, you’ve released the Free Salamander Exhibit record recently. Does the label usually work in this reactive manner in which a band comes up with their record wanting to release it and you guys help out or do you have some “schedule” behind it, something more elaborate?
First of all, this is the first time Mimicry has done a follow-up release ever. Usually, what happens is a band spends some time with us and then they move on to bigger and better things. What happened to Sleepytime [Gorilla Museum] was that they fell back into Mimicry Land, ha-ha.
Cleric will be putting out their record very soon, actually. Let’s use them as an example. They work so fucking hard and have worked for such a long time… Essentially, at the first opportunity of their record being ready, they would want to put it out. That would make sense. But, when things get too close to summer it’s not a good time to release a record — I’m not sure if that wisdom still holds up like it did six years ago, but these days I think things like that matter. When you release something and how you do that really, really matters. So, just releasing it because it’s finished — even though we live in an era when we can turn things out quickly, I mean, I can do a pressing of CDs and have it, from the moment I get masters, I can have them in 10 days. It’s incredible. It used to take three months to get everything together. Things are faster now, but it’s the contrary situation to how to market a band.
You see what I’ve been doing, I just surprise everybody. I think it’d be bad to do something like that to a band like Cleric. It’s not that they’re not established, but people need to know about it and the whole process just needs to grow. The same should probably happen to SC3 too, I just don’t have the patience to dick around with it. On behalf of bands like that, you know, I think it’s worth it to sit and think about the best process.
We did that with Free Salamander Exhibit too. There was a question of “should we sit on this release and wait for there to be a tour?”. If that was the case, we would still be sitting on it because the tour isn’t until later this summer. Now we have the question of doing vinyl with them. I’ve been waiting to get their masters and then… [when] we get them, do we have enough time to press them before the tour? These are the sort of things that come into play when determining when a record comes out.
I guess it’s a case-by-case basis and you just release bands that are close to you, have records nearly finished and that you like enough to deal with the practical aspects.
I pretty much only deal with the practical aspect of it and I only deal with musicians that I feel like are self-sufficient: they control every aspect of their own vision, they produce their own records, they’re like me — they work out all of their shit, get into the recording process and finish it their own way, by their own means. Mimicry is for musicians like that. I mean, it was always like that. The thing is, in 1998, there was almost nobody doing things that way. Now, there’s nobody not doing things that way. It’s not really a big deal anymore (laughs). Nobody is being paid by record labels to do anything at all anymore. Our model has always been that of self-production, and we try to honour the incredible amount of work that goes into making records like this — to think that artists are capable to do it, it is incredible. If you take something like the Sleepytime [Gorilla Museum] we put out by them, it’s all done in studios like SC3 records, put together by them, every aspect is handled by them. You listen back to these records now and they sound like… I feel it’s much superior than what we’re hearing elsewhere, and there’s a reason for that, so much care goes into this stuff. That’s the part that’s getting lost a little bit, the care. That and the willingness to spend thousands of dollars and hours into making this all happen.
It’d be sad to think of these records being lost to the wind, which would have been very possible. Not like they don’t end on an obscure corner of the universe by being on Mimicry — they surely do, it’s a pretty obscure place to be –, but at least it’s not completely invisible. That’s essentially what I have to offer them, a community of people that at least keep an eye open for this little corner of the musical world. That’s very, very good. Thank God for that. It could be very different, and it’s great to see how committed everybody is.
In an older Mark Prindle interview, you mentioned bands that put the Idea first and foremost in their art, with the examples given at the time being Laibach and Devo. Have you found any other bands like that?
Since then? Nope. Have you? (laughs) I should mention Sun City Girls too. They’re not necessarily a band of overarching concepts, but they’re a band that keeps something other than shredding on their instruments firmly in mind. I’ll put it this way: even with good musicians — maybe especially with good musicians — we have a crisis of attention. I think not enough attention is being put on aspects other than “what am I doing on the fretboard? What’s happening on these faders?”. Listen, I’m an obsessive. I do technical shit all day long, ’til the cows come home. But my mind is someplace else more than half of the time. I know that, when it’s a case like Sun City Girls, their mind is like 98% up there *gestures to the sky* and maybe 2% down here *gestures to an imaginary instrument*. You know? Bands like Devo, it’s not like they’re bad musicians. There’s good musicians in the band, but it’s not a showcase of fucking talent. This, to me, is the crisis. When you deal with prog rock, which we deal with a lot, I feel like there’s an awful lot of mis-attention. Attention should be elsewhere, it shouldn’t be so confined to all of these duties. Like I said, I’m all about duties, I’m doing them way too much, but you have to keep your mind focused, your ears and your heart aligned to something else besides that. Because otherwise it’s fucking boring! If you’re not connected to the larger picture, music by itself is boring — a dead body without any life left in it. You have to focus on the thing that’s moving, the breath, the air, the wind blowing things around. When you lock yourself in a fucking room and turn off all the lights, it’s boring!
That reminds me Tim Smith, from Cardiacs, claiming he liked to write for the guitar away from the guitar, just so he could avoid easier chord shapes and “musician attitudes” while composing.
Exactly! You have to get away from the instruments. Thinking for the instrument is a real problem. That’s why I mention a crisis, we are too instrumentally-based minds. Instrumentally-based music isn’t the problem, but if our minds are just hooked on our instruments, where are our ideas coming from? Not from anywhere interesting, you’re just focusing on patterns on your fretboard or your paradiddles, it’s boring.
As an artist I actually find myself working on the technicalities of recording, writing and conveying parts, the craft side of production, possibly hundreds of times more intensely than any sane person would ever want to. Even so, my attention is never exclusively taken up by those duties and technicalities. Quite the contrary, all those technicalities are put in service of the artistic vision from start to finish. This is why, for example, a lot of performances that make up a recording are left to be rather “sloppy” in themselves by today’s standards. It’s because they are parts of a puzzle, and you don’t stare at the pieces of the puzzle in isolation, so much as you keep the “big picture” in mind, and fit the pieces together how-ever the actually exist IN the “big picture” (ie not in themselves).
So in other words, it might seem like I’m a perfectionist obsessing over technical details, but in fact I’m more of an “imperfectionist” servicing a whole (the artistic ideal in mind) by assembling a mass of deeply flawed and imperfect parts a certain way.
I’ve heard that there was specific notation for Eyvind and Jessika to have a reference during the NT Fan show in the Stone. Would you ever put that notation out for people to see or is it too private?
It’s not that it’s private. It would distract from the piece. The whole focus of the piece, the whole focus of NT Fan, is creating the end effect. So, with the notation, I’m trying to distract the players’ attention and minds from anything — not that Eyvind and Jessika need that, but the idea is to have all players be distracted in the same way. NT Fan is the opposite of writing notation, it’s distracting in a unified way.
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After recording the interview, I asked Trey for a follow-up on his recommendations of Brazilian Metal. He graciously sent me this:
Holocausto — Campo de Extermínio is probably the best example of what I like from early Brazilian thrash. Total raw aggression. That record probably goes a bit beyond the term “thrash metal”, which is of course a good thing. At least on that record.
Let me say that just like in the USA and Europe, after the 80s a lot of extreme metal bands (really most of them) completely lost their way. Listening back I still feel that way. It’s definitely not a nostalgia issue, because I feel the exact same thing discovering Brazilian bands in these last few years. A lot of later records just don’t quite have the HELL that the first one or two did.
Having said that, Holocausto and Dorsal Atlântica are the two bands I’ve found that attempt to break the mould in very eccentric and adventurous ways. Again, this is a lot more than can be said of most metal bands from the 80s, Brasilian or otherwise, since the majority of these 80s bands just sounded more and more generic ‘Death Metal’ over time. You have to be careful with Holocausto, because they put out stuff like “Negatives”, which to me is too self-consciously Voivod-esque to sit through for very long (even if I appreciate the attempt). But you’re right, “Tozago as Deismno” deserves much wider appreciation as a truly anomalous achievement, and really it has a need to be discovered finally someday as an excellent “experimental / avante garde” record. Definitely not “metal” in the way I intend this discussion to go! But yes, I have to admit it’s something everyone in the 90s “experimental” scene in the USA would’ve been blown away by, had we known about it. It’s certainly better than 99% of those CDs that clogged up the “experimental” section at Amoeba Records… probably if “Tozago as Deismno” ever even made it to the USA (maybe it did?), it would’ve sat & rotted in the metal section (which wasn’t “cool” in the 90s) until it went on “clearance” pricing and some Pantera fan bought… then threw it away after listening for 15 seconds….
But the main sound for me is from the 80s. Probably my favorite black thrash album from Brasil is the debut from Attomica. To me, the blackened vocals are way better for this style of thrash than any other approach. I usually don’t like any of the later developments in thrash or death metal vocals. I hate the tough guy sound, the cookie-monster sound. To me the best metal vocals (and also metal guitar riffs to an extent) need to sound atonal, disembodied, hateful, painful, otherworldly AND insane all at once. I don’t care AT ALL about any metal that falls short of those qualities.
This is precisely what I like about Sarcofago’s INRI and Rotting. Actually, my brother in law gave me a fresh copy of INRI last time we were down in Brazil. He and I have similar backgrounds when it comes to lifelong interests in underground metal. Upon maturity we both took on an impractical habit of immersion in philosophy and history. So there is plenty to talk about.
There is certainly a connection between the world of extreme authentic metal and actual philosophy (by this I mean considerations of philo [love of] sophia [wisdom] prior to the scourge of excessive rationalism that has led to the collapse of serious consideration of any metaphysical principle). Because this kind of extreme metal takes its sense of psychic disturbance and anger so far that it tends to travel beyond grounding in physical phenomenon. Metal is at its best when it penetrates into a kind of metaphysical trance of vengeance, like a supra-human dimension of mania born from a deep sense (or experience of) of inescapable injustice, abuse, and the threat of obliteration. It goes way beyond ‘social commentary’ because it concerns itself with stirring up Achilles-like thymos, and assuming godlike powers of retribution. To be honest, in my opinion all metal that merely sounds like some big dudes that are merely pissed off is worse than useless. I won’t waste my time listening to metal unless it can literally transport me to HELL, or at least touch me with a mania that I recognize as being familiar with the meaning of that word. In other words, it has to tap into thymotic rage.
That’s not the rage of sociopolitical humankind at the mercy of their gods of economic injustice, and “angry” about their misfortune compared to others over a few beers. It’s the rage of Achilles, at the mercy of nothing — a burning in the chest that builds toward the opportunity to lay the entire pantheon of Olympus to waste.
So back to the music, and thanks to the threat of nuclear holocaust and the satanic panic of the 80s, there’s so much to listen to from that time: Genocídio’s self-titled is also pretty good in the above-mentioned ways. Also, to me, Vulcano from the few years around the Bloody Vengeance era captures an eerie subtle quality that I tend to seek & rarely find. It’s a feeling not unlike what Possessed had, and I consider them to be the best all time Bay Area death/thrash band. Both band’s finest moments were happening at the exact same time. Vulcano’s live (bootleg) recordings even show this creepy quality.
I should also mention Extermínio’s self-titled, which, when it goes fast, is the best kind of blackened thrash metal from the 80s. It has much cooler riffs and drumming than well known thrash bands from the same time, with vocals a little like Schmier from Destruction, but again much better. Their music points both in tempo/feel and subject matter towards the urgency of punk hardcore, in the best way, while retaining the best of metal existential perspective. Bands who moved towards ‘hardcore’ at that time usually kind of faked their way into that sound, but on Extermínio’s debut it’s very natural. Probably not even trying to do it.
Dorsal Atlântica has a few eras and I’m still finding my way through them all. But what a unique and twisted presence this band has in the world… like I said, unlike most bands, beyond the great raw beginnings of Antes do Fim you are forced to admire the later eccentricity. Maybe this band shows something akin to Celtic Frost’s 90s awkward metamorphosis into a psychedelic abomination, but with more interesting music — sort of more like if Peste Noire (France) tried to initiate a New Age Cult. Pretty nuts by any standard! But in saying that, I don’t want to dismiss the depth of the ideas, musical or otherwise, because obviously this is a vision that has been built over three decades — that kind of commitment is not really to be questioned.
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Huge thanks to Trey and Fernanda for making this interview happen!