Jess And The Ancient Ones
Thomas Fiend and Thomas Corpse
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
During the past few years, several interesting new bands have popped up who draw influences from 70’s mystical rock. The Finnish band, Jess And The Ancient Ones, were received wide attention before their self titled debut album saw the light of day. Jess And The Ancient Ones’ mystical and atmospheric occult and psychedelic oriented rock approach has spell-bounded several rock and metal fans. Therefore, it was about time to interview both Thomas Corpse and Thomas Fiend about the rise and success of Jess And The Ancient Ones and as for the band’s future, it will remain as an unsolved mystery from now on.
Good day to the whole Jess And The Ancient Ones combo and whats up in the camp of the group now in the middle of the summer?
Thomas Fiend: Hello there, after releasing our “Astral Sabbat” EP we’ve being playing some festival shows abroad, like Roadburn in Holland. We just finished a mini-tour in Finland with Kuolemanlaakso and now it’s time to take a little creative break, preparing the material for the next full-length.
THE BIRTH OF JESS AND THE ANCIENT ONES
Even though Jess And The Ancient Ones is widely and well known in Finland, but before going any further, could you shed some light on how the band got started out in the first place ?
Thomas Corpse: A few years back there were many nights spent with the likes of Roky Erickson. Thomas Fiend and I then once again discovered the magic that lies within music, whatever the genre may be, and went on to explore new grounds. Sometimes a feather may outweigh a giant. Thus was born JATAO!
When did you consider forming a band and not playing extreme metal, instead focusing on a more psychedelic and catchy rock sounding approach?
Thomas Corpse: The love has always been there. Many things had to happen before this journey could appear in the flesh, and it took long before the time and place met and melt together. British heavy metal was my first real love, and it appeared to me in the form of Iron Maiden. And like many others a guitar was bought soon after the fall. So the more classical heavy side has been within me from the start, but I needed experience to grow and deepen my musical knowledge. When getting older, one starts to throw away those restraining barriers built in youth, as there should be no law within self expression. So we are not really focusing unto any certain genre, just doing what feels right.
Finding the right musicians to match the music and achieves is always important, was finding and recruiting the suitable guys to join the rank was an easy going on process after all did you already know whom to be asked?
Thomas Corpse: I knew some of them from before, but some I’ve never met. Pleasant surprises all around… that was the feeling after the first gathering. It was fairly simple as all the pieces seemed to fit straight from the start.
Thomas Fiend: Yeah, Corpse kinda found the line-up while I was spending some months back-pack traveling in South-East Asia, so it was a pleasant surprise to return and have the band started right away.
The band’s name refers to the front-lady Jess, how did this come about ? Did did she step in to the picture in the early stage of the formation of the band or how did this name thing come up?
Thomas Corpse: The certain kind of group names like Neil Young and the Crazy Horse or Roky Erickson and the Explosives have always stuck my head, and I really love the separating, and yet still binding element that lies in them. One can exist without the other, but when joined all the mountains will fall. Of course we are all individuals on personal level, but together we release the entity that is JATAO.
Continuing a bit more about having a female as the vocalist; was it an obvious choice to have a female vocalist to have a certain atmosphere and feeling in the music of Jess And The Ancient Ones? Did you even consider adding a male vocalist to the ranks?
Thomas Corpse: We were searching for a vocalist who could handle the clean singing, and Jess was the first to come along. Our drummer introduced her to us, and we tried out a couple of Roky Erikcson tunes. She knew how to work her way with them, and the choice was obvious after that. It wasn’t a gender related thing in any way, as it also could have been a male voice.
As most of members involved in Jess And The Ancient Ones have the strong background in extreme metal bands such as Deathchain and Demilich, what was the biggest impact as well as influence on you to play more rock-ish music with a 70’s psychedelic grip – did you want to explore a different kind of music and expand musical tastes to the wider approach?
Thomas Corpse: Like mentioned before, it’s all about the freedom and liberty of self expression. We are all loyal to all of our bands, and taking this step with some of those other groups would not have been a good choice. All groups have forged their own identity, and reaching that state has demanded tears, blood and growth. They all share the same goal in the end, but walk their paths through different soundscapes. The fire is always fire, it’s not tied to time or place.
THE DEBUT ALBUM
The debut album is a fine slap of catchy songs with catchy ethereal spell bounding riffs. What kind of song creation process did you have when composing for the album? Did you create the basic ideas for riffs on your own to share them with the rest of the band in rehearsals, or how do you carry out that?
Thomas Corpse: Usually the author of the song writes the lyrics, and the builds the base for a song. Then the songs is taken to the training grounds, and the whole group starts to go through it. Of course we always follow the original voice of the author, and build the rest around it. This has proved to be the best working method, and we continue to execute it in the future as well.
Does everyone bring input of their own into the song writing process? Is/are one or two guys of JATAO the main composer(s) coming up ideas and lyrics for songs?
Thomas Corpse: Everybody gives their own touch in the arrangement stage, but the main writing process is done through me and Thomas Fiend.
When composing the material, which elements are the main parts and factors in the structure of a song of JATAO which can’t be ignored or forgotten certain melodies, harmonies, spell bounding riffs?
Thomas Corpse: Well we tend to keep things on a more rock based ground, but there really aren’t any limitations to what direction JATAO might go. Our next releases contain different voices, as we keep evolving all the time, but I’m pretty sure that our listeners will still immediately know that it’s us.
Thomas Fiend: Personally I have a very simple guideline within all the bands I compose music or write lyrics in; as long as the material comes sincerely from the heart and the initial impulse is being channeled with a desired energy, you’re on the right track. Of course there’s a lot of natural selection, like some ideas may fit better for some other band etc. but otherwise there are no barriers.
The album was recorded at the Necromorbus Studio in Sweden. Did the studio give the perfect and authentic sound world for JATAO or why was that studio chosen for the recording of the album?
Thomas Fiend: Yeah, Tore from Necromorbus Studio comes up with a lot of good ideas when it comes to production and sometimes arrangements, and I really like the sound he has captured for both the debut album and the EP.
The layout of the album is truly great, with a magical looking package. Is it essential to have an eye capturing album sleeve to catch the attention of buyers in a record store, and how much effort did you put into the art and visual things of the package?
Thomas Fiend: We always put a lot of attention to album artwork and in the merchandise designs, the visual elements must support the sonic atmosphere and vice versa. With the debut album artwork, I think we did exceptionally well and it represents perfectly that particular moment in our history.
The album contains all in all six songs. Did you have more songs left for the album, or were these six ones all of them?
Thomas Fiend: We have a lot more material than just the songs that we’ve released so far. Some of them are complete songs but the arrangements still need polishing up, some of the material is just some structural skeletons… You kinda notice if a song either doesn’t fit into a specific release, if it needs some more time to mature up, or if it’s ready to release. And of course, many songs get that extra spark and develop further when we perform them live.
The acclaimed debut album saw the light of day last year and the single titled ”13th Breath of the Zodiac” a year earlier including the Coven song “White Witch of Rose Hall”, I can’t help ask how much Coven has inspired the sounds of Jess And The Ancient Ones?
Thomas Fiend: I heard Coven for the first time when I was visiting a good friend in Germany, almost a decade ago, and I’ve been liking their “Witchcraft…” album ever since. It’s a classic, and probably any rock band which has female vocals and a “satanic” or ritualistic approach is being compared or connected to them somehow. They are simply one of many influences that we have. Nothing more, nothing less.
THE RISE AND THE SUCCESS
Inking the deal with the Finnish label Svart Records was an obvious choice, but did other label show the interest toward Jess And The Ancient Ones and how did you end up picking up Svart?
Thomas Fiend: I think Svart Records was the first label we got in touch with concerning JATAO, and after deciding to go with them we’ve been extremely pleased with their attitude and the way they work with us. After the debut album there has been many labels that are showing interest and that are contacting us, but we’re happy to say that we’re happy with Svart Records, heh.
Jess And The Ancient Ones has been in the headlines and received media attention in several metal/rock sites and magazines all around Europe. Has the international attention and interest toward Jess And The Ancient Ones come as an unexpected pleasant surprise for the band?
Thomas Fiend: Yes, all the attention was a surprise. Since creating and playing this kind of music together as a seven-piece was a bit exotic probably for all of us, in a way we didn’t even know what to expect when we started this band. We simply wanted to make this kind of music, that’s all. Now that we’re in this situation with promotion etc. you could say that the table is well set for the future. Also, the critics will probably be paying extra attention to what we do next, hahah!
Do you view the writing for the second album will be some sort of pleasant challenge for the whole band to top the material of the debut album?
Thomas Fiend: Making an album is always a purifying experience, as a songwriter there is something you need to let out in the form of music and lyrics. Of course we strive for evolving in all areas and we expect development from ourselves as musicians and songwriters, but we’re not looking back too much, you know? We’re not thinking about the debut album or the recent EP when making new material, we just create our own path as it goes.
Jess And The Ancient Ones has been ranked to the same league with other bands like The Devil’s Blood, Year Of The Goat, and a number of others. In general, occult rock, stoner, and doom stuff have all become one kind of big trend, at least it seems like it has, how do you view the current flourishing occult rock phenomena?
Thomas Fiend: I agree that there’s a lot of talk about “occult” rock being a trend nowadays, but if you really think about it, how many bands exactly are doing that stuff? I recognize that there are dark currents which can be sensed by mystics and dark magicians and which manifests musically in a certain way. Occultism is not a musical genre, yet the word “occult” is being thrown to describe a band’s sound, visual image or basically anything. In the end, the whole concept and meaning of occultism, magic or esotericism are hidden from the masses, as it is expected from them heheh.
Seriously, does it bug when JATAO is outspokenly categorized to The Devils Blood and others in the general opinions among the metal and rock audience even though JATC has the recognizable sound of its own?
Thomas Fiend: If you listen to our music with an open mind, it’s obvious that we have our own sound and that we know what we are seeking. I think this entire comparison-talk of who sounds like who will diminish with time. All of us who wander this one-way acausal path see that one is of course influenced by one’s experiences. We are embracing and respecting that by doing our own thing.
Do you view it as kind of mandatory thing for people to label and categorize a new band to find some kind of impression of how some certain new band sounds like?
Thomas Fiend: My point exactly. Especially in the Internet the negative feedback is always very present, people love to whine about stuff instead of focusing on something creative or positive. I embrace that feedback too, I don’t really mind that much because I know what I’m doing and why.
In which ways do you think the band needs to develop and improve to become better?
Thomas Fiend: Phew, I could list a whole lot of things since I happen to be very critical when it comes to all my bands, I’m constantly see and hear things that could and should be improved. Eyes to see, ears to hear. Life is constant evolving and in this light, the whole band-process is both a journey and a goal in itself and there’s no end to the eternal cycle of change. This is how I praise and manifest the dynamic energy of the Dark Goddess.
PLAYING WITH THE DEVIL
The lyrics and the general impression of Jess And The Ancient Ones is closely linked to deal with the mysticism and occultism for obvious reasons, where do you ladle the inspiration for the lyrics after all?
Thomas Fiend: The lyrics stem from the fruits and results of magical workings, as well as from the magical workings themselves. Some lyrics come from the spiritual traditions and myths surrounding these workings.
Are some of you in JATAO heavily involved in studying the occult philosophies?
Thomas Fiend: Yes, I have been a member in a dark magical organization called Dragon Rouge for years and we study many occult philosophies and traditions of the Left-Hand Path, in theory and practice. I leave the other band member’s convictions as their private matter.
When writing the lyrics do you have to be in a certain mood to capture the right vibe? Besides these mentioned occult and magic theme oriented subjects, which other issues may influence you to write about?
Thomas Fiend: You don’t necessarily have to be in any mood, true inspration can strike whenever. It’s like split into these impulses where ideas just pop into your head, and to sessions where you consciously set yourself to create and unleash something out. Mostly I write only about things related to the occult. Of course my personal interpretations and reflections about some traditions color my texts, and I hide many personal things in them.
Do you view playing with the devil on Left Hand Path is the essential part of this kind of psychedelic rock music?
Thomas Fiend: No. Psychedelic music is psychedelic music, it’s a music genre, and the Left-Hand Path is an occult philosophy which has nothing to do with any musical genres. If someone wants to adapt these two, then that’s what they’ll do. Inner freedom, rebellion and liberation from all shackles and rules is the way.
What would be the most idealistic environment and place for the perfect show of Jess And The Ancient Ones?
Thomas Fiend: The audience is an important part of it, so usually club gigs, indoor gigs or festival gigs which are packed tend to be the most intense ones. Esoterically, the ideal place would be in the astral plane, heh.
All right! I for one thank you for your time and interest in doing the interview for Metal-Rules.Com, and of course the last words are yours..
Thomas Fiend: Thank you for this interview, and mighty cheers to all readers of Metal Rules! Shout at the Devil and He shall appear!