Heart of Steel: Interviews

Agalloch: Interview With
Messrs. Anderson and Haughm

Interview By Michael De Los Muertos

Agalloch is rapidly becoming a force in the world of experimental metal. This band, from Portland, Oregon, began a few years ago with some odd but fresh new ideas on black metal, and are becoming a well-respected institution, a reputation which hopefully their new album, The Mantle--one of the best albums of the year thus far, I might add--will advance. I had the chance recently to correspond with Messrs. Anderson and Haughm, and here's what they had to tell us about their music, their ambitions, and Agalloch's undeniably unique place not just in the Portland metal scene, but in metal everywhere.

 

What is an "Agalloch"?

Anderson: You mean, what is Agallochum? It is a resinous and fragrant East Indian wood.

 

What exactly are the band's influences? What do you guys listen to?

Anderson: Right now I am listening to Amon Duul II "Yeti." However, our influences really stem more from cinema than from music. Images provide us with as much, if not more, inspiration than music. I think its unproductive to be directly influenced by something within your medium, so we really rely a lot on cinema. I think the images found in the films of Bergman, Jodorowsky, Bava, and Jarmusch, lend more to the work of Agalloch than any single band.

Haughm: To answer the second half of your question, we listen to a variety of music, depending on our moods. From Depeche Mode to Darkthrone, from Glenn Gould to Kent, from Whitehouse to Tori Amos, and so on. Sometimes I'll listen to nothing but techno/dance music for a couple weeks then suddenly get a craving to listen to Master's Hammer or Current 93 or something...

 

How exactly does the writing process take place?

Anderson: Haughm provides the rest of us with rough CDR's of the basic tracks and we all spend time alone working on elaborating those ideas. Eventually we get together and throw away stuff, or add new stuff. Often I will have a part I really love, but it may never make it onto the recording. It's a real give and take situation composing the way we do. But, I really prefer it.

 

Do you try to focus on one thing alone or do Agalloch and Sculptured blend during this process?

Anderson: The two bands have blended once, and that was during the recording and rehearsal of both "Pale Folklore" and "Apollo Ends." During practice we would go from a Sculptured song to an Agalloch song. Then, we recorded "Pale Folkore" and afterwards immediately began work on "Apollo Ends." It was really crazy. I was not going to school full time then, so it wasn't too difficult. I don't think we could do this again, and we don't have any plans to. I think we'll keep things more separate next time.

 

Many people often confuse Agalloch with a European band, why exactly does this happen?

Anderson: I suppose because we sound "European". Either that or it is all the art-house film aficionados we hang around with at cocktail parties in Northwest Portland.

 

How well versed is the band in musical theory? Your music (and Sculptured's, for that matter) seems to show that there have been extensive studies in this field, is there any truth to this assumption?

Anderson: I was a music major for two years before switching to English Literature. Jason has also taken courses in music theory. I think its important to understand that music theory's primary use is to provide rules to be broken. You have to have some rules to see where you can go. Music is nothing more than the organization of sound which leaves infinite possibilities.

 

Would you mind giving us a small description of your music?

Anderson: Yes I do mind. Generalizations are a form of lazy thinking. Language is ultimately useless when it comes to signifying anything truly. It is better to express feelings and emotions through non-discursive mediums such as cinema, visual arts, and music. Music is the medium we as artists have chosen to express our ideas. To attempt a rhetorical equivalent would be foolish and do nothing more than undermine the integrity of art.

 

Just the way you see it and think of it. What is "dark neo-folk metal" (as the label calls you) and how would you describe your style to a new listener?

Anderson: Not to ignore your question, but again, I really can't do this because aside from what I explained in response to your last question it is also impossible to honestly step outside one's self and be objective about one's art. The label came up with the term "dark neo-folk metal." We had nothing to do with it. We understand that it is marketable to do this, but Agalloch does not play such rhetorical games. Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. We could go around in circles like this for pages upon pages.

 

What is the deal with the band and nature...you have what looks like a moose on the cover of your new album THE MANTLE. It appears to me to actually be the elk statue on Main Street in downtown Portland.

Anderson: It is an Elk. The Thompson Elk is a very well known statue/fountain in downtown Portland which is a city we adore and live in. Agalloch embraces nature because we are siding with what is essentially the victim in a relationship where humankind is a disease. Humanity is inherently self-destructive. The best way to separate myself from what I see as a biologically flawed being is to embrace the very thing these individuals seem bent on destroying.

 

How important are lyrics and the message you are trying to get across? 

Haughm: Well on some levels we deliver a very honest, no-nonsense, contemplative expression of life. That is to say our message is a very negative, hopeless one - while at the same time objective, so the listener can interpret it as he/she sees fit.

 

How did you hook up with The End Records?

Anderson: The End approached my band Sculptured with a deal while we were still on Mad Lion Records in Poland. This was in the beginning before The End had released anything. Andreas asked me to recommend other bands. I sent him demo tapes of Scholomance and the Agalloch promo tape '98. He liked the tape so he offered us a contract.

 

What do you think of the other "avant-garde" bands on The End Records label? 

Anderson: Well, I am obviously biased when it comes to Sculptured. I can only speak for myself. I really enjoyed Mental Home's "Black Art" and most of "Upon the Seas." I really liked the new Green Carnation. Arcturus has always been a favorite of mine. I have been a fan of Scholomance since their first demo. However, I wouldn't really call any of these bands avant-garde. None of them use helicopters (Karlheinz Stockhausen), Insects (Graeme Revell), prepared pianos (John Cage), or vegetable powered instruments...

 

Do you play live, if so where and with what types of bands? 

Anderson: We have never played live, but this may change. We'd love to and there has been discussion of this…we'll see. We just don't have enough musicians or a proper rehearsal place. 

 

What do you think of the Portland metal scene and what is your place in it?

The Portland metal scene seems to be made up of a large number of incestuous bands. There are some good bands like Thy Infernal, Wraithen, Lord Gore, and Engorged. I am friends with most of those guys and we get along fine. I can't keep track of the revolving doors most of those bands have though. Agalloch and Sculptured seem to be the most normal functioning bands in Portland. But, then again, it is just the three of us.

 

Where do you think metal is headed in the future? Do you see a positive or a negative future for metal in general?

Anderson: Right now I think its in a really bad state. There are too many bands, labels and webzines. The scene is grossly over-saturated. There is not enough originality or aesthetic care in the production of albums. These are the reasons I have not been too heavily involved in the scene. However, with what originality there is, I think Metal is beginning to incorporate more influences from other genres. The lines between genres are becoming blurrier. Take Ulver for instance. They are now an electronic band that is still being sold and targeted to Metal fans. I think this is a great thing. Overall, I have a positive outlook for the future of Metal. But, as Boyd Rice would say, we need a gardener…a brutal gardener...

Haughm: I don't really pay attention to the metal scene anymore. For me, it reached it's pinnacle between 1996 and 1997 and has spiraled downward ever since. I have little faith it will get better and frankly I don't care what happens with it.

 

If Agalloch is remembered as an important band in the history of metal, what would you want it to be remembered for?

Anderson: For having excellent aesthetic sense and original, quality music.

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