Agalloch
(Don Anderson)
di: 
Edoardo Baldini
25/06/2005



 

A great interview for Rockline.it, the first Italian webzine that has talked with Agalloch, famous Dark Folk American band, who released excellent albums such as Pale Folklore and The Mantle. The guitarist, Don Anderson, tells us some aspects of the new third full-lenght...

E.B. - First of all, Agalloch comes from the name of a resinous East Indian wood, Agallochum, doesn’t it? Why have you chosen this name?

Don - The smell of woodsmoke or incense from wood is something we find to be expressive of the overall sound and look of Agalloch. I know that may sound strange. I can’t say that we have any connection to eastern culture.

E.B. - What are your influences? What do you like to listen to in this period? And can you suggest some bands for Rockline’s readers?

Don - Agalloch’s primary influences have always been the early work of Ulver, early and contemporary Katatonia, Fields of the Nephilim, Death In June, Sol Invictus, and recently groups like Godspeed You Black Emperor. Pale Folklore is a combination of the albums, UlverBergtatt,” KatatoniaBrave Murder Day”, and Fields of the NephilimThe Nephilim”. With “The Mantle” we began employing influences from Nick Cave, the neo-folk genre, Godspeed, The Cure, and Swans. Right now I mainly listen to bands like Pelican, ISIS, Jesu (post-Godflesh), Secret Chiefs 3, The Locust, A Silver Mt. Zion, Coil, contemporary classical music like Arvo Part, Philip Glass, Edgar Varese, Charles Ives, Igor Stravinsky, and all the aforementioned bands. As for your readers, if they enjoy the work of Agalloch, then they will also enjoy Woods of Ypres (Toronto, Canada), who I think are one of the best bands right now. I highly recommend the following albums, which I find to be absolutely essential: Sol Invictus “The Blade” Current 93 “Of Ruine or Some Blazing Starre” Fields of the Nephilim “The Nephilim” Death In June “But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter?”, Godspeed You Black Emperor “Slow Riot For A New Zero Kanada” Kent “Isola,” Arvo Part “Tabula Rasa” (any recording will do), Philip Glass “Violin Concerto” (the Kremer recording), Anglagard “Epilog,” Anekdoten “Gravity,” Coil “Music To Play In The Dark Vol.1 and 2,” Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Murder Ballads,” Forseti “Erde” (exceptional neo-folk), Slint “Spiderland”, and so many others. I cannot go for a long time without listening to any of the above.

E.B. - How has your sound changed from the first demo, From Which of this Oak? Why have you decided to completely change your style in the last The Mantle?

Don - Our demo was very much part of the so-called “new wave of Swedish Heavy Metal” that included the earliest albums of bands like Dark Tranquility “Skydancer,” In Flames “Lunar Strain”, and many other bands that employed that single-note, double-picking melody way of playing. A song like The Wilderness is very much a part of that style. But, this style wasn’t what we ultimately set out to do. I think everything changed when John (Haughm) and I got heavily into Fields of the Nephilim. However, on the demo you can still hear the Ulver influence in a song like As Embers Dress the Sky which is also reworked on Pale Folklore. I am not sure if we have “completely changed” our style. However, we knew we didn’t want to write and record another Pale Folklore. Before The Mantle we had expanded what we were listening to and thought that there is a lot of non-metal music that is just as “dark” and “depressing” as the metal we listened to; bands like Swans, Godspeed, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, etc…, and so it was only natural that we wanted to see if we couldn’t somehow combine the sound of these non-metal bands and artists with what we were doing with the sound of Ulver and Black metal. Agalloch also likes to take chances, and I feel a song like The Hawthorne Passage was a real risk. I remember recording the guitar solo and we were surprised that we all liked the “bluesy” approach I was taking. That and the “vamping” piano riff are all risks that we could never have done on Pale Folklore. In many ways The Mantle was very liberating for all of us, because we knew that we were combining influences that hadn’t been used before in a “black metal” context, and that we were getting away with it, or so we thought anyhow. Further, The Grey EP was another risk we took. I like to think of Agalloch as a band that is able to explore all the regions of dark music whether that music is found in heavy metal or not. We want to keep the music fresh and exciting. I still think you can hear elements of Pale Folklore even on the songs that seem less metal.

E.B. - How would you define your actual music? Maybe a mixture of Dark and Neo-Folk?

Don - I normally say we are a band that plays dark and sad music. I like the term Dark Rock, or perhaps Dark Metal, although “metal” tends to be too restrictive. I wouldn’t say “neo-folk” because a lot of our music is still electric. I guess we just play “miserable music.”

E.B. - Are there some pagan elements in your music? You love nature and this could be considered a pagan feature.

Don - Sure. I know that John is very much into “heathen” culture, aesthetics and so on. His house is decorated with swords, wooden statues of Odin, Thor, Pan, etc. And that is his main inspiration. I am definitely not Pagan, nor is JWW, or John for that matter. Certainly, we do love Nature, and if one follows the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote we use on the disc, then yes we sort of do worship Nature, at least through our music. Personally, I am very much an atheist. But, we do take inspiration from Nordic mythology and Nature. But to my knowledge, none of us specifically practice Pagan beliefs or rituals.

E.B. - What emotions does Winter give you?

Don - I like how beautiful the snow looks. I like it when things have to close down because there is too much snow. I like being secure in my house while it is freezing outside. I like being by a fire and drinking beer while listening to music. I think the sense of security of being inside while it silently rages outside is really attractive to me. More importantly, I hate heat! I can’t stand the Summer months because I hate the sun. It’s too hot, shines in your face, and causes cancer. We’ve also been lucky to record while it snows outside and we watch it snow from our windows in the studio.

E.B. - The artwork of “The Mantle” represents an elk: why have you chosen the elk as your symbol?

Don - That statue is a famous statue in down town Portland, Oregon where we are from. We all take great pride in our city because it is very evocative to us. There is a lot of culture in this little town in terms of film, art, music, and great beer. When we write that The Hawthorne Passage is for a grey city, we mean Portland. The cars you hear passing on that song are cars underneath a bridge in Portland. Anyhow, the elk is a symbol of power and strength, and for us, a pride in our city. There are a lot of sculptures in Portland of various animals. So, there is this strange “urbanization” of nature that we find really interesting. It’s almost as if the city grew and from its concrete streets arose these statues of animals. In fact, that elk is in the middle of an intersection, so it was hard to get a photo of! Further, we feel we have done the whole “forest thing” with Pale Folklore so we wanted to focus on urban settings, however, these statues of animals allow us to keep something of the natural present in The Mantle.

E.B. - How much have the keyboards been important in “The Mantle” to create the Folk atmosphere?

Don - They are not that important. Keyboards can be a real “cheap” way to create atmosphere. I think we use the keyboards conservatively and only where necessary. A lot of time we will use them as an effect or a transition. I think you’ll see less keyboards all together in the future. Keyboards provide a nice texture, but we try not to foreground them that much.

E.B. - Tell us something about the realization of your last album. How did you create it?

Don - Because we are a non-traditional band and don’t practice or meet up and play together when we write, we each work with a CD-R demo of the basic tracks and write our own parts over them. Eventually we may get together and show each other what we’ve done. Then, we enter the studio and literally hope that everything fits and works together. If it doesn’t, we have to improvise. However, this forces us to record and write very slowly, which really allows the music to grow and progress, even while we are in the studio. So, it takes a really long time for us to write and record. But this allows room for a lot of “happy accidents” or things we didn’t expect. In fact, because each of us, me, JWW, and John work with separate CD-Rs, there were three different versions of The Mantle that finally became what you hear now.

E.B. - Did you use some particular instruments during the recording?

Don - I really fought to have the accordion and mandolin used on A Desolation Song because I wanted to take a risk and it was what I heard in my head when I wrote the song. We also used some trombones and a standup double-bass, which gave the music a very grim, and harsh undertow sometimes, like in …and The Great Cold Death of the Earth.

E.B. - What do the lyrics of “Pale Folklore” talk about? And The Mantle’s? Can you explain them to us shortly?

Don - John could answer this better than me because I don’t write the lyrics. However, basically, Agalloch represents the side of nature in its struggle with humankind which seems bent on destroying it and prolonging its own excessive population at any costs. We also feel that life is a seemingly endless procession of failures, broken promises, and unfulfilled hopes. At least this is what we express in our lyrics.

E.B. - What mostly influences your lyrics? They don't seem inspired by everyday experiences.

Don - True, we take a lot of influence from film as well, particularly the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Jim Jarmusch. But, as for specific influences; loss, Nature, heathen ideas and images, sadness, and the overwhelming idea that all of this is meaningless.

E.B. - What about books? Likes and preferences?

Don - I read mostly 20th/21st century fiction, for example the work of William Burroughs (Naked Lunch), Saul Bellow (Herzog), Thomas Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow) J.G. Ballard (Crash), Franz Kafka (The Trial), H.P. Lovecraft, some of my favorite books are Moby Dick, Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie), and House of Leaves (Mark Danielewski). I also really like the Italian writer Italo Calvino, particularly his book If on a winter’s night a traveler…- it’s a brilliant book. I also read a lot of French philosophy like Deleuze and Guattari, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek who is both brilliant and hilarious. In fact, if Europeans wish to read an illuminating response to 9/11, they ought to read Zizek’s Welcome to the Desert of the Real or Baudrillard’s L’Espirit Du Terrorism, both are, in my opinion, the best way to understand symbolically what 9/11 means for the US and the world. I also read a lot of literary and film theory. I generally prefer experimental or postmodern fiction and philosophy. While I enjoy revisiting classic philosophy like Nietzsche, Marx, and Plato, I prefer to read current theory and philosophy. Likewise, I still enjoy the classic literature canon; Hemingway, Melville, the Brontes, Lawrence, Hawthorne, and so on.

E.B. - Let’s talk about the future: are you still working on the third full-length at the moment? How does the new sound appear?

Don - Yes, we are working on the new full-length. It’s actually still a little early to get a full idea of what it will sound like. The new material is still similar to The Mantle and there is still some Pale Folklore in there, but there is a definite influence of German and Swedish progressive rock bands like Thule, Landberk, Anekdoten, and Amon Duul II, as well as prog-folk bands like Sand (UK), Simon Finn, and Camus.

E.B. - Many people think you come from Scandinavia, because your style is very close to Opeth’s, Ulver’s and many other Swedish or Norwegian bands’. Up to now you have played live only in the USA; Europe loves Agalloch so much: why don’t you tour through Europe, playing in the most important cities and towns?

Don - Well, we would love to! However, it is merely a matter of getting a fair tour offer. None of us can afford to fly to Europe, so we’d need an offer that would fund the tour. However, we are not interested in making money from a tour, we’ve never done anything for money. So as long as we can travel without paying our own way, and eat, we are ready to go. It is also difficult because I am a teacher, JWW is having a baby with his wife, so it would be hard to arrange time to do a tour long enough to visit all the big cities. But, we would love to tour Europe.

E.B. - Do you think that an acoustic live would be great to achieve the atmospheres produced on the records?

Don - We actually like to keep Agalloch really stripped down for live shows. It was a real challenge to do live shows because on the records we have sometimes four guitars, but live, we only have two. So, Agalloch live is more of a raw, rock band. We even re-wrote the middle part of In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion so that it wasn’t slow. So, most of the songs are very different live, mainly because we had to rework them so they would fit with the basic set-up of two guitars, one bass, drums (with only one kick) and one vocal. So we hope to have a live recording someday, because the material is quite different.

E.B. - What do you think about The End Records? Is it a good label for new experimental metal bands?

Don - Yes, it is. I have been with The End personally since the day they started. Sculptured was one of the first bands to be signed but the band, and I am the last remaining original band on the label. Andreas (owner of The End) is incredibly supportive of our music. I know that both Agalloch and Sculptured could do anything and he would release it. Andreas was at JWW’s wedding, and sent my wife and I a wedding gift when we got married (he couldn’t be there due to a tour with Enslaved), also, Andreas slept on the floor and gave us the beds when we toured. They are incredible people and an incredible label. This just goes to show how close our relationship with The End is. It’s personal for us. It’s like family.

E.B. - I know that you play or have played in many other projects, such as Sculptured, Nothing and Subterranean Masquerade. Can you describe them shortly?

Don - Sculptured is my main band. I try to write challenging and progressive Death Metal that is influenced heavily by contemporary/modern/experimental classical music like Schoenberg, Lachenmann, Ives, Varese, Luigi Nono, and others. The music is written using matrix systems, otherwise known as “serialism.” I am working on the third album right now. Nothing is JWW’s main project and is located in the noise/power-electronics genre. In fact his albums are released by the excellent Italian label Eibon Records. Perhaps you know them? They release the brilliant music of the Italian band Canaan, who are one of the darkest bands ever. Check them out if you can.

E.B. - What do you think of the Portland underground scene? Are there many other important rock/metal bands, besides Agalloch and Sculptured?

Don - Yes, there is an excellent band called Remains of the Day, but I don’t know if they are around anymore. I don’t know much about the local scene because I don’t get out much. Portland is famous for bands like Poison Idea, who are a legendary Punk Band, and other “alternative” bands. Waldteufel are from here and they play neo-folk and have worked with bands like Blood Axis.

E.B. - I know that you love Italy for its film production and for its Progressive Rock music. How have you discovered this special and forgotten music? What are your favourite bands? How much has Italian Progressive Rock influenced your work?

Don - My favorite Italian progressive rock bands are Museo Rosenbach, whose album Zarathustra is one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard. It’s absolutely magical. I also really like Premiata Forneria Marconi (L’Isola Di Niente), Il Balletto Di Bronzo (YS) Devil Doll (Dies Irae, The Girl Who Was Death…), Goblin (Roller, Profondo Rosso, Suspiria), Locanda Delle Fate (excellent dual-keyboard prog), and I’ve been wanting to hear New Trolls, but haven’t yet. I got into Italian prog mainly from my love for progressive rock music. I had mainly listened to the British prog bands like Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, and Genesis. But, I then got interested in Goblin because I am a huge fan of Dario Argento and liked the work they did for him. I consulted a lot of online progressive rock guides and through reading reviews and taking recommendations I got interested in the above bands. I also enjoy the Italian composers Luciano Berio and Luigi Nono.

E.B. - Are you going to come to Italy? What towns would you prefer to visit?

Don - I hope to someday, especially if Agalloch tours. I’d like to visit Rome and see Dario Argento’s horror movie store. I’d also like to see where some of Fellini’s films were made.

E.B. - Thanks a lot for having given us this interview. We wish your next album may be a great success! You can finish the interview as you prefer.

Don - Thank you for your support and I am sorry you might have to translate all of this. Best wishes to you and your webzine! Ciao everyone!

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