Interviews : Agalloch
With John Haughm
John, thanks for taking your time to answer these questions. Agalloch interviews are unfortunately rather scarce. Do you feel like it is your aversion for answering questions or is it more of the underground status of the band that is at the root of the problem here?
Well, interviews are pretty much just part of the promotion circus that surrounds a new album. Some interviews have been interesting and enjoyable, others have been irritating and pathetic. I'd rather not do any interviews at all but I understand that some amount of promotion needs to be done which I'm ok with as long as it is done tastefully. When it comes down to it, we are supporting the The End Records by doing this promotion. Naturally without sales, they cannot survive. We have actually done several interviews and many can still be found on the Internet so I don't understand why this "problem" keeps being mentioned...
While Pale Folklore exhibited a rather complex approach to writing dark metal, the majority of the melodies on "The Mantle" are more straightforward, presenting a catchier side of Agalloch, yet also giving the album the enigma and the extravagance of bands like older Ulver and Naervaer, to name a few. Was there ever intent to write a specific type of song for The Mantle, or did everything come naturally in the studio?
It all pretty much came naturally in the studio. We certainly had an idea of how the album would come together during the pre-production process but we went into the studio with loose expectations and lots of room for experimentation.
Do you think the musical direction of "The Mantle" could have been different if it was the immediate follow-up to Pale Folklore, or was the "Of Stone Wind, and Pillor" mini-CD the cornerstone that marked the transition?
Actually most of the "Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor" MCD was recorded before "Pale Folklore" so it can't really be called a bridge between the two albums. The title track, "Haunting Birds", and the Sol Invictus cover do have some elements we ended up expanding on with "The Mantle" so I can see how people would look at it as such, though it wasn't our intention.
Are you satisfied with the outcome of "The Mantle" or are there still things that you wish could have been done differently?
There are always things I wish could've been done differently in everything I do. I can honestly say, however, that I am 95% happy with "The Mantle".
When I try to combine the music and the lyrics together, the images are overwhelming. Yet, it seems like the nature and its interaction with humankind plays the predominant role in Agalloch's lyrical content. Is there one single unifying theme to this album? Is "The Mantle" a concept record, or is it, for the most part, a mix of random thoughts and feelings?
Well, it follows a red thread, both musically and lyrically, but I wouldn't call it a concept album in the traditional sense. Both of our albums are moreso variations of a theme rather than a straight and narrow concept.
While I do not want to speculate too much, it seems like it was your trip to Finland [as read in LotFP issue # 3] that has really changed you as a songwriter and as a musician. Would you agree with this statement, and if yes, then what do you think is so special and likable about Finland and other Nordic countries?
It didn't affect my songwriting at all. In fact, the trip made me a bigger fan of dance/techno music! It merely was an opportunity to visit a country I was interested in and experience their culture up close. I had opportunities to meet a couple 'legendary' people in the scene and attend underground gigs from a European perspective, which was cool and kind of surreal at times. Finland is a beautiful country with a nice culture and an attitude I found to be simply delightful. I can't really compare it with the rest of Scandinavia because didn't visit Sweden, Norway, or Denmark.
Why did it take such a long time [almost six months] to record The Mantle?
A few reasons. The studio decided to upgrade half-way through the recording, which caused a lot of downtime. However, this new system made the mixing process much smoother and I think the production result is excellent so it was worth the wait. We originally planned to take a month off anyway so this allowed us even more time to work with the stuff which was already recorded up to that point and come up with some better ideas. That wouldn't have happened if the album was recorded altogether in one or two chunks so it was a positive thing.
While the band never disguised itself as a non-American band, the sound is definitely foreign. Do you think it would be easier for a band like Agalloch to be from, for example, Norway, rather than from Portland, Oregon, or do you feel like being the white crow in the flock of [for the most part] boring US metal works to the band's advantage?
Of course it would be easier for us to come from Scandinavia, at least in terms of breaking through close-minded barriers that seem to plague certain genres. I mean, if a dark/black metal band comes from Sweden for example, the scene pretty much bends over for them no matter how derivative and suckass they are. This isn't to say the US hasn't earned it's reputation; especially in the US black metal scene, but it can be frustrating when we are lumped together with the rest or spat on simply because we are from America. To be honest, I don't care where a band comes from as long as I like their music. I also don't think the perspective of being 'the white crow' is an advantage because, on the whole, people are quite close-minded anyway.
While I find "The Mantle" brilliant and exhilarating, I miss songs like "She Pained Fire Across the Skyline" [from "Pale Folklore"], because of the more metal elements in the music ["I am the Wooden Doors" is the only real "scorcher" on "The Mantle"]. Has Agalloch permanently moved into more of an acoustic direction, or is it still feasible to expect more metal elements from the band in the future?
It's too early to say what we will do with our next album but our next few releases will follow other musical paths. I think these smaller releases may gradually hint at what our next album will sound like...but maybe not. Like I said, it's too early to say. We let our material evolve naturally so it's difficult to say what we will be doing in one or two years time.
Would you mind expanding on the phrase "We are the wounds..." that is displayed on the back cover? Does it directly connect with the lyrics to ...And the Great Cold Death of the Earth, signifying that the mankind is the destructive force that will ruin the earth?
Well it isn't as prosaic as you make it sound but yeah, it connects to the phrase in the lyrics. It also connects with "In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion" both conceptually and musically. Frankly, I don't think mankind will "ruin" the earth. I think we will destroy ourselves long before that. We are just simply passing wounds.
I must admit that the Spanish speaking part at the end of "The Hawthorne Passage" somewhat takes away from the overall flow of the album. But, just like anything else, it is in the music for a reason. Where is the sample from and what exactly does it mean?
The sample is from Jodorowsky's "Fando & Lis". I recommend that people seek out and buy or rent this fabulous film. So I'm not going to give away what this dialogue says. I will say that it, along with the introduction sample from "The Seventh Seal", was put in the final section of "The Hawthorne Passage" to symbolize the passing of life - which goes nicely with the atmosphere of that section of the song.
One of the surprises on the new album are your clean vocals, which sound superb, especially with the acoustic approach the band takes. Was there ever a sense of uncertainty of how your vocals would turn out?
No, not at all. I knew the result I wanted and tried to achieve it. Thanks for the compliment.
Considering that Agalloch is not a live band and since you write the majority of the songs, have you thought about making Agalloch a one-man project? What is the input that Anderson and J. William W. provide for the band?
Good god no! Their role in Agalloch is just important as mine since they add things to the music I would never dream of. Agalloch functions as a multi-member band and will do so until the day we decide to put it to rest.
What is Minidoka?
It's a concentration camp in Idaho that was used for Japanese internment in the 40's.What does that have to do with Agalloch? Absolutely nothing, but, while I was photographing Anderson for the album, we walked by the Japanese historic rock garden on the waterfront and took several photos. All of the photos on the album were taken in various places in downtown Portland and his photo looked really great with that text so we used it.
If you don't mind, I will just name 5 random bands and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind...
Darkthrone: Black and white; night and snow...
Barathrum: Meeting Demonos after the Barathrum/Thy Serpent gig at the Karen club in Turku and then again after the Marduk/Naglfar gig at the Lepakko club in Helsinki the next night. That guy rules!
Venom: Beer drinking, base-minded rabble, icons of heavy metal idiocy...
Iron Maiden: Does the world really need another Iron Maiden catalog re-issue?
Nokturnal Mortum: Beer bellies and SS emblems...
In your opinion, what are a few contemporary bands that create brilliant music, but remain largely unknown and underappreciated?
Unknown and underappreciated by whom? I mean, I wouldn't expect most brutal death metal teenagers or mainstream nu-metallers to appreciate Kari Rueslatten, Loreena McKennitt, Steve Reich, When, or Static Movement, for example. As for the overall mainstream audience, it is largely dependent on current trends which determines who gets their hour of attention. 'Brilliant' music doesn't really mean anything to that audience so why bother? I will recommend to everyone a Finnish neo-folk artist called NEST. Finnish folk melodies, slightly modernized, performed mostly on traditional Finnish instruments - excellent stuff that could be appreciated by a wide variety of people. In fact, our next release will be a split 7" EP with them.
What's in the future for Agalloch? A possibly live show or two?
Right now we are working on several small, limited releases. One, maybe two are planned to be released before the end of 2002 and two more are to be released throughout 2003. I am also working on material for our next full-length. As for live shows...who knows.
John, that's pretty much it for me. Thanks for the interview. Is there anything you would like to add in conclusion?
Thanks for your genuine interest and appreciation.