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
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.
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
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
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
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