Lots of behind-the-scenes work going on around here at the moment so if the daily flow of stories, reviews and veiled requests for snack foods has slowed to a trickle, our apologies. Rest assured that new, exclusive content is coming your way in the not-too-distant future. Lucky you? Last month I took the padlock off of my nasty old wallet and laid out hard cash for a physical copy of Apathy Noir's new release, 'Black Soil.' This happens no more than once a month as I'm both cheap beyond all reason and have to budget any discretionary purchases. While not the best way to acquire a mountain of metal, it does mean that Pretty Wife doesn't grumble when my monthly album shows up. In the weeks since receiving the album directly from Viktor Jonas, Apathy Noir's composer and instrumentalist, he's humored my frequent e-mails and fanboy questions like a pro. Somehow, this pseudo-journalist convinced both Viktor and Apathy Noir's vocalist, Andy Walmsley, to do an interview for Metal Abyss. As with all of our interviews, what you see is exactly what the band gave us... and man did they deliver! Happy reading and rage on!
MA: Viktor & Andy, First, thank you both very much for taking time out of your days to speak with me and give our readers an artist's perspective on their work. I've read some of the reviews coming in for 'Black Soil' and the praise is universal. What's your take on how the album’s been received so far? Is this the album you envisioned creating when the writing process began? Viktor: Thank you Justin for having us! The album actually started out as an EP that I was going to release as a completely new band. The background to this is that after the release of my previous album, Across Dark Waters (2016), I received a “cease and desist” letter from a lawyer in the US representing another artist by the same name, effectively prohibiting me from using the name “Apathy” which I had used from the first release in 2006. In effect, I had to erase 10 years of a band from the face of the earth, changing all records of that name linking to my band on the internet, as well as remove any links to physical goods with that name and logo on it. I renamed the band Apathy Noir and re-released all previous records under that name. I took a little time-out after that and felt that I needed a fresh start, so a complete new band seemed like a good idea at the time. However, when I eventually started writing new music again I decided to resurrect Apathy Noir and make a new full-length album, and I'm glad I did! Andy: From my perspective I’m just pleased that people seem to think I’ve managed to do justice to Viktor’s music, and that they’ve generally appreciated all the work he (and I) put into it. Getting asked to come on-board and provide vocals was obviously a big deal, so I wanted to make sure I gave it my very best, and it’s just nice to have some vindication that I didn’t mess things up. MA: Viktor,I always hesitate a bit when I categorize a band within a particular sub-genre of metal as there's usually plenty of cross-pollination, making their classification under this genre or that legitimately difficult. Since you’re here I might as well ask you: What type of band is Apathy Noir and can you describe the sound you are trying to create? Viktor: I think someone described the band as Progressive Doom/Death Metal back in 2006 or 2008 and I liked that term since it broadly describes the general style of music. But since I take inspiration from so many different genres and styles of music it is hard to pigeonhole it. I've seen descriptions ranging from Black Metal to Funeral Doom (which is quite the opposite of each other), Melodic Death Metal and the funny term "Opeth-Metal". Dark Metal is another term I've also seen mentioned. I think the use of sub-genre categorization today is getting ridiculous, a side effect of the Internet-age I guess. MA: Viktor, The road to releasing 'Black Soil' was not necessarily a smooth one, though I imagine that’s the case more often than not for musicians. Part way through the writing process you found yourself hunting a new vocalist. Can you talk a little bit about Andy Walmsley and how working with him helped shape the final product? Viktor: When my previous vocalist announced that he was leaving, I continued writing and recording during the time I searched for a new vocalist. I posted the news on the band's Facebook page and simply asked if anyone would be interested in doing the vocals but also the lyrics for the new album and Andy was one of the people who expressed interest. I checked out some of his bands, Twilight's Embrace and Beyond Grace, and really liked what I heard. He showed that he had a good range of styles and expressions and was also a good lyricist so it seemed like a great choice. Other than giving him some pointers on what type of vocal styles I was looking for and a few notes on a general theme of lyrics, I gave Andy the freedom to do pretty much what he wanted. I sent him a few songs for him to record a vocal demo on and from that we worked our way through each song, exchanging comments, ideas and thoughts until we both were pleased. Not quite the same as sitting in a studio together, but all in all it was a great experience working with Andy. MA: Andy,You and Viktor aren't exactly next-door neighbors who started out by covering early Black Sabbath tunes in your garage. Can you talk a bit about how you became involved with Viktor and Apathy Noir? What sort of challenges (or advantages) were there to collaborating with someone who wasn’t writing and playing in the same room as you? Andy: So oddly enough my relationship with Apathy Noir came about partially because I wrote an article for NoCleanSinging (who I’ve now spent about seven years writing for) covering the band’s discography up to that point. Viktor and I exchanged a few messages, but nothing really came of it at the time, other than that I made sure to follow the band on Facebook to keep up with what they were doing. Anyway, long story short, when Viktor announced that he was looking for a new vocalist to work with I sent him some material from both Beyond Grace and Twilight’s Embrace, and apparently, he liked what he heard enough to ask me to step in!
In all honesty though the collaboration was remarkably easy and laid-back. Viktor would send me the tracks as he was working on them, sometimes in rough demo form, other times pretty much 80-90% finished, and ask me what I thought, and I’d give him some comments (usually about parts I thought he might want to repeat a few more times, or even a few less times), share some ideas I had for lyrics and titles (some of which made the final album, some of which didn’t), and eventually helped out with arranging the track order (I love that sort of stuff). Occasionally Viktor would have some comments about the vocals, but largely he left those to my discretion, just as I was happy to work with whatever music he gave me, since it’s very much his band! MA: Viktor, As Someone who can barely string a series of chords together on a guitar, the song writing process has always been a mystery to me. In speaking with musicians over the years I’ve found that there is no right or wrong way to write a song. Where does the song writing process begin for you? Viktor: I like improvisation and “going with the flow” and I prefer writing music at the same time that I record it. Often I start out with a short melody, a riff or perhaps a drum rhythm I've had spinning in my mind as a basis for a song and from there, just experiment and improvise until I feel that I have something worthwhile to build upon. For me it is essential to capture the emotion of that note or that chord that you hit, in that exact moment that you hit it, because that is the truest and most vulnerable and open emotion you can give. Every new song I record is a journey. You know it has a beginning, but you write the story as it goes a long while you record it and that’s exciting to me. MA: Andy, One of the things that struck me most about the vocal arrangements on Black Soil was not just what you chose to vocalize, but also what you didn't. At no time on this album did I feel as though there were vocals where there shouldn’t be. To say it another way: You didn't over play your hand as a vocalist. How did you decide where your voice was needed, and where it was best to let the instruments breathe on their own? Andy: Well, I’m pleased you picked up on that. One thing that was REALLY important to me on this album was giving the music time to breathe. I didn’t want to overwhelm the record by making it too dense and too busy vocally (which is what I find a lot of inexperienced vocalists tend to do). Thankfully after a few demoing sessions and some judicial editing I started to get a sense of not just where I could add vocals, but where I should be adding them… and where I shouldn’t. That’s why there ended up being certain sections – such as midway through “Samsara” or in the last few minutes of “Time and Tide” – where the vocals take a long break (or disappear entirely).
In fact there were actually a few lines cut from a couple of tracks (most notably “Towers of Silence”) during the mixing process where Viktor and I both agreed that doing so would serve the song better, and I’m glad we did it. Less is more, as the cliché goes! MA: Viktor, The words "Complex" and "Dynamic" come to mind when I think about Apathy Noir's song structures. I liken the listening experience to pulling the curtains back on a window, allowing a look at a vast, harsh landscape. Given how non-linear your song structures are, how do you determine when a particular track is complete? Viktor: I think you're spot on with that likeness. It feels more natural for me to use non-linear structures as opposed to the standard, intro, verse, chorus-formula. I like to think of an album like a movie or a season of a TV-show, with the individual songs being episodes of that season. I think I go a lot on what feels right for both the individual song and the album as a whole, and where in the track listing the song will be.
MA: Andy, We could talk for days about the lyrical content of this album as your words couldn't have done a better job of complimenting the scarred and morose sonic landscape that Viktor crafted. Towers of Silence, as you pointed out in a recent Facebook post, draws lyrical inspiration from Zoroastrian funeral rites. Genuinely fascinating reading there as many of the tenets of that faith can be found in the major religions of today. Apart from 6th century BCE religion, where do you draw your lyrical inspiration from? What do you want others to take away from your lyrics? Andy: That’s probably my favourite track on the album, as it turns out, so I’m glad you appreciated it. I had a lot of fun fitting the words to the music on that one, working out what to put in and what to leave out, what sort of imagery would best convey what I was trying to say and (as you touched on above) where it would be more effective to leave space for the listener’s imagination to do the work for me. It’s also, along with “The Glass Delusion”, something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, but which I could never find the right home for… until Viktor came along!
In terms of inspirations I read a lot, watch a lot of films, documentaries, follow the news, listen to a lot of music… I’m a profligate thief of ideas and I’m always noting down words and phrases that stick out for later use and development (for the second Beyond Grace album I’ve already taken bits and pieces from a Chinese sci-fi novel, a comic writer’s twitter feed, and an Arabian folk tale, as jumping off points). You know what they say, “good artists borrow, great artists steal” – and I may not be a great artist yet, but I’ve got the stealing part down!
And while I always want to try and transmit certain images and ideas with my lyrics, certain hooks and themes which I want to stick in people’s minds, I also like to leave a little room for interpretation and debate. And although there IS a definitive “true” interpretation of each song (I should know), I’m always interested in how other people approach and interpret things, as it tells me a lot about them.
But I will admit that sometimes it’s fun to keep the listener guessing. For example, “The Void Which Binds” is definitely a dark song, but the message is a surprisingly positive (if slightly sombre) one, if you pay close enough attention. MA: Viktor & Andy,There seems to be no shortage of metal bands at the moment and the stream of excellent new releases appears to be never-ending. Is metal entering a new golden era where anything is possible; or, as another band pointed out to me recently, does increased homogenization threaten to saturate the market and drive down interest? Andy: I think people need to realize that the Metal scene – and the music industry as a whole – is still adapting to the rise of digital streaming, social media, etc. Myspace, Facebook, Youtube, Bandcamp, Spotify… all these things caused major upheavals to the old system (which was already dying), and I think that we’re still waiting for a new equilibrium to be established. And while we’re never going to go back to the “golden age” of the 80s/90s era, with labels throwing tonnes of cash and promotion at Metal bands, I do think that we’re seeing more and more bands finding new ways to build and sustain their careers using the new tools which are now available to them.
Of course there are potential drawbacks (such as the possible homogenization and over-saturation of Metal and its many sub-genres), but generally I’m leaning towards this being a good thing in a lot of ways, as it means that bands from all over the world can now find their audience, and find their scene, without having to be satisfied with just whatever is available in their own back yard, while music fans can now discover and support bands and albums which they might never have stumbled across otherwise. Viktor: I agree that over the last decade or so, thanks to the rise of digital platforms, social media etc. has made a huge impact on the music scene and allowed a lot of underground bands and artist to release their music which is great! Unfortunately, it also means that there are an abundance of music out there which for me personally at least have made me tired and even apathetic to finding new music and bands to listen to and follow. MA: Viktor & Andy, We always ask this question of people we interview here: What was your first metal show and what was your first metal album? Viktor: If I remember correctly my first concert was either a Rhapsody or Stratovarius show in a small club in Stockholm in 1997 or 1998. I was 14 back then and really in to Power Metal. The year after that I remember seeing an Iron Maiden concert at Hovet, also in Stockholm. It was on the final stretch of the Virtual XI tour and one of Blaze Bayley’s last performance with the band. Sound was terrible, but it was a great experience! The first Metal album I purchased myself was Slayer’s Divine Intervention in 1995. Paul Bostaph’s drumming on Divine Intervention really made an impression on me as an aspiring 12-year-old drummer. The first Metal album I heard was probably Fear of the Dark by Iron Maiden. Andy: First Metal show… phew, that was a long time ago… well, I think the first one that would count would probably be VAST just around the time they released their second album, “Music for People”. I’d been slowly but surely discovering more Rock and Metal artists for a few years by this time, but it was around this point that I really started to develop some actual taste of my own, and the early VAST stuff is still very important to me even now, despite how much my tastes have changed and developed since then.
As for first Metal album, that was probably something like Significant Other by Limp Bizkit, or Around the Fur by Deftones. Although I do also remember owning copies of Youthanasia and Master of Puppets pretty early on too… Either way, my early taste was definitely informed mostly by what music videos I caught on TV and what my friends were into (which was mostly a mix of Nu-Metal and Punk/Hardcore). MA: Viktor, Since 2006 you have released 2 EPs and 4 full-length albums. With that kind of prolific output is it safe to assume that ideas are already percolating for the follow-up to Black Soil? Viktor: Ideas are always percolating; the problem is to turn those ideas into reality! Something that I wanted to do for quite a while now is to re-record or at least re-mix and re-master some of my previous work, mostly because I’m unhappy with the production and the use programmed drums. It’s been nagging me that, being a drummer myself, I haven’t been able (or, maybe it’s just that I’m a bit lazy) to record live drums for the albums so that will be my focus for the foreseeable future. MA: Viktor, Where can people go to hear and purchase Apathy Noir music and merch? Viktor: For physical CD’s and digital music your one-stop for Apathy Noir merch is http://vjonas.bandcamp.com. If there's enough interest, I may be adding more merch in the future! (Note: All future articles will feature at least one phrase pilfered from Andy Walmsley's work over on No Clean Singing)