Interview with Kris Clayton (vocals, guitars, keyboards)
Interview by Beandog
UK, extreme metal three piece, Self Hypnosis have recently released their impressive debut album – Contagion Of Despair – via Svart Records.
If you are unfamiliar with the band’s name, you would be forgiven for making the assumption Self Hypnosis are new to the scene. Actually, their roots can be found within several established acts. Main songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kris Clayton is also known as the creative mainstay behind, Camel Of Doom. His collaborator on this project, Greg Chandler has a long-established reputation for recording, production and engineering work and is also a founding member of doom pioneers, Esoteric. Self Hypnosis’s drummer, Tom Vallely is a veteran performer who has worked with bands such as Sanctus Nex and Lychgate.
Their new record mixes influences as diverse as Ministry, Yes, Genesis, Death, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Prodigy, Laibach, Godflesh and YOB; and the result is a raging collection of industrial doom that is absolutely well worth your time.
Metal Rules spoke with Kris Clayton about the record. We talked about it’s creation and any ongoing plans he has for the project.
Hello, Kris! It’s great to speak to you. How are you? Can you give us a quick update on how things are in the Self-Hypnosis camp at the current time?
Things are generally good as we bask in the post-release glow. We’ve been happy with the response we have received to the record and we are really pleased with the job Svart have done on the physical formats which look and sound excellent!
Interestingly, your past work with Camel Of Doom has more-often been tackled as a solo endeavour but this new release is a collaboration between yourself and Greg Chandler. Was there anything specific about this material that made you think your contributions would complement each other on this project?
Not really the material, no – more that we are very good friends and we work together well but hadn’t collaborated on music together for quite some time. Greg has a distinctive vocal style that I think adds a lot to any extreme metal record, so that was obviously a bonus!
What would you say are the similarities with Self-Hypnosis to your previous work (both Camel Of Doom, and Greg’s, Esoteric) and what sets it apart?
The music is a natural evolution from the last Camel of Doom album, and indeed several of the songs were written with the intention of being a follow up to that.
The biggest difference is switching to electronic drums as the main drum sound, with live drums being used as a lead instrument in a way now. We’ve also put much more emphasis on both the extreme and progressive elements of the later Camel of Doom records, whilst practically eradicating the Stoner Doom influence. We’ve made heavy use of vocal FX as well, which was already used in both CoD and Esoteric, and obviously my vocals sound like CoD vocals and Greg’s sound like Esoteric vocals.
Musically it isn’t that close to Esoteric overall, but shares the same ethos with regards to dark and psychedelic music.
Indeed, it IS a genuinely diverse listen in terms of the influences being drawn from. You’ve talked about using innovative techniques to record – “wiring up the whole building to create spacious, expansive recording spaces, or digitising live drums to drag an ’80s Hip-Hop sub-bass groove into the mix.” Can you elaborate on this? Which side influences the other? Does the material dictate how you record it, or do you get inspired and write based on production experiments?
It can go either way really. Sometimes I will have a specific sound in mind, like the drum loop intro to the album, which was always made to have that kind of sound even in the demo stage. On other songs it was more about creating a drum sound that fit that particular section. For instance, for the long slow build in the middle of Omission, it wouldn’t have fit the post-rock nature of the rest of the instrumentation to use the pummelling drum machine sound that is used during heavier sections. Instead it needed a much ‘liver’ sounding drum sound, so we recorded Tom in a stairwell with mics at the top of the stairs to give some natural echo – a technique stolen from Led Zeppelin!
Then for a song like Divided, the original demo of the song was not intended to be a heavy song at all. It was just something I was playing around with when I had Yes’s, Relayer album on constant repeat and was trying to capture some of that chaotic prog sound. Later, I decided to develop it into a Self Hypnosis song by adding the heavy guitars. As with Omission, the drum machine was not well suited to this by itself and the original demo had complicated drum parts that needed a real drummer playing them. My solution to this was to keep a basic drum machine part, and then add ‘lead drums’ from Tom.
I’ve always liked the sound of drums on Hip-Hop, or big beat stuff like The Prodigy, that are sampled from 60’s and 70’s records, then processed to sound heavier, and with the origins of the song being as a 70s prog style song, it seemed fitting to set up a 70’s era drum kit, mic it up in the way it would have been done in the 70s to achieve that sound, then record the drums in that way, to then use as if it had been sampled off a classic Yes record.
It is also worth noting that when Greg and I experiment with production techniques, we normally have a pretty strong idea of what we want and how to achieve it – between us we have about 50 years of production experience, so often when we demo a song we will already have ideas in place for what we would like to do when we actually record the song properly – I suppose that (if keeping the scientific terminology) the ideas at these points would be classed as theories, which we then develop an ‘experiment’ to prove. Usually we don’t have many failed experiments and our theories of what would turn out well are proved correct.
That’s fascinating! Bearing this creative approach in mind, what would you say was the hardest song to capture on the album… and what was the easiest?
Probably Divided was hardest, as it is the most difficult to play with crazy time signatures and lots of lead guitar work. Plus, having the live drums element throughout the first half of the song. The easiest was probably Empowered (Restricted) as it is short, fairly simple, and as it was one of the songs I had written for Camel of Doom 5, I had already got used to playing it!
You’ve mentioned Tom Vallely’s contribution on “lead drums!” What is it about his playing that convinced you he was the right man for the record?
I had already worked with him as he had performed all drums on the last Camel of Doom album, “Terrestrial.” In that case, I’d asked Greg who he would recommend to do session drums for that album, and he was playing in Lychgate alongside Tom at the time, and spoke very highly of his abilities – which turned out to be well earned praise as he is a joy to work with. I’ve actually done three albums with him now as he has played on something else I have in the works at the moment, and each time he came to the sessions fully prepared and did everything in less time than expected!
Overall, how successfully do you feel the end result captures your original vision? Did anything change along the way? Were there any surprises?
Yes, though it is hard to say exactly what the original vision was as half the material was written with the intention of being the next Camel of Doom album, which it has not become. But since I decided to change direction and I started re-working that material, the vision has been pretty solidly followed through. I also tend to have demos that are at least 80% of the way to being the full released album so by that point everything is fairly solidly in place already.
You’ve released the album on Svart records. How did your relationship with them begin?
Svart was a label I was very interested in working with as they consistently put out good quality records – both in terms of the bands, and regarding the physical records themselves. I’m a big vinyl and CD collector and Svart releases always sound and look great. They also released several Oranssi Pazuzu records, and those guys are my favourite band to pop up in the last few years 🙂
Greg has done mastering work for bands on the label before (and Svart actually pressed the 2xLP release of Esoteric’s 2011 album, Paragon of Dissonance) so we already had a channel of communication there, and we pretty much sent it over, Tomi liked it and wanted to put it out, and now here we are.
Can you tell us about the album art? Who is the artist and what is the concept?
The painting was done by an Italian artist, Daniele Lupidi (www.facebook.com/DanieleLupidiArtist) who also did the cover for the most recent Camel of Doom album. I first discovered his work on the cover for Italian Death/Doom band Assumption’s first EP, ‘The Three Appearances’ which was fantastic and had exactly the kind of spacey style I was looking for. He’s not the biggest name in the world of metal album covers right now, but he is doing a good few album covers a year and will hopefully gain more notice as I love everything he has done.
The artwork is directly related to the album title and concept, and is specifically referencing certain lines where I use a metaphor of a hurricane of hypocrisy, fear mongering and lies for the output of the media, and the figure is being pulled into the eye of the storm no matter how he fights to avoid this. There are also some references in the lyrics about cycles or circles, and spirals, and how depending on the angle at which it is viewed a spiral might be seen as a natural cycle, where after this black period we might start to see improvements once again and go through happier times, but in reality it is a downward spiral where things only get worse and worse, but that it may be too later to change course by the time this becomes clear.
Of course, outside of the album’s creation, the big elephant in the room is the global pandemic. How has Covid-19 effected your post-release plans – did/do you have any intentions to perform these songs live?
Yes, we were in early discussions about how we were going to approach this.
We’ve got Tom in the band as a full time member now, so he would have been playing drums, and we were considering options for other band members. Really the pandemic has just given us a bit of breathing room when it comes to thinking things through and preparing to hit the stage whenever we can again. So many variables are in place right now, but you can be sure that we are very keen to take this music to a live audience.
And what are your thoughts about the music industry in general, post-lockdown/social distancing/pandemic?
Whilst it is having an effect at the moment by stopping us from playing shows, I think the industry will recover on the whole just through simple supply and demand.
I think the bigger issue for us as a UK band specifically is the impact that global politics is having on our ability to tour easily. The USA has put a 50% price hike on the already ridiculously expensive musician visas, and the UK seems determined to have the worst possible working relationship with the EU by refusing to agree on anything whatsoever. Why they are bothering to pay negotiators who refuse to negotiate, I don’t know. All I know is that the days when a UK band could tour in Europe without any issues are now over.
And speaking of the future, do you have plans for further releases under the Self-Hypnosis banner or indeed any future projects coming up that may be of interest to our readers?
Yes, there is already a full CD’s worth of Self Hypnosis music written for a follow up, which we should begin recording properly fairly soon. Esoteric is also already working on new material again since we haven’t been able to tour the new album at all this year.
That great. Sounds like everything is on a generally positive trajectory! Finally, what’s in your record bag? I often like to ask musicians if they have any good music recommendations for our readers?
I’ve been binge buying CDs lately, so a long list! I’ve been trying to get somewhere close to complete collections of main albums of bands I am a big fan of. At the moment I’m buying up Coil, Depeche Mode, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Current 93, Nurse With Wound, Throbbing Gristle, Foetus, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails remix records, Deftones and Pink Floyd.
Marvellous! Thanks for your time and best wishes for the future!
No worries, always a pleasure.