Friday, September 14, 2012

Interview: Alda

photo by: Nadine Drisseq

Let me get one thing out of the way before moving on, I really fucked up last year on my 2011 year end list by not including Alda's Tahoma… a lot of people did. It humbly flew under the radar of everyone's shit smelling noses and we all look stupid because of it. Tahoma should/could replace Wolves In The Throne Room's Celestial Lineage on any year end lists without any scoffs or qualms - for it is a more cohesive, organic, and overall convincing album. I said it, I stand behind it, deal with it. 

It is important to note that the band as a whole is credited for the answers instead of one particular member, everyone contributed which is great. Some will be credited individually however depending on the question. I thank them for getting together and answering these questions in detail, to you I would suggest listening to Tahoma while reading along… it's free download on their bandcamp.

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1) "Tahoma" truly succeeds in creating a portal of vast and dense atmosphere, sending the listener into the depths of the wilderness, surrounded by bulking conifers and mountainscapes. How important was it to try and bring the listener into this imagery?

It is important to us to try and accomplish this for sure, and we like hearing about folks picking that up when they listen to our music. For us Black Metal has always been about creating a self-contained world within the sound and general aesthetics of it, and transporting the listener to that world, in our case it being the vision of Nature we experience and our embodiment within it, and everything that comes along with that.
But there are also fundamental elements of music that are entirely emotive, and move the recipient of the music in ways that transcend any kind of defined imagery or ideology. It can get pretty abstract when you think about it, so as an artist it is best just to do your thing and accept the diversity of ways that people experience and interpret music.

2) Look within yourself, which animal is your spirit animal? Why that animal?

Jace: The Elk and the Salmon are always in my dreams.

Stephanie: The Fox and the Wolf.

Michael: There are many Animal beings that have influenced me. The Raven, the Coyote and the Owl are some I’ve had close encounters with, and have affected me.

Tim: The Hummingbird – go like hell and die young.
 

3) I'd like to think that bands who so powerfully convey the essence of nature in their sound are truly outdoorsmen, and I get a kick out of imagining that the band will write and develop songs while gathered around a bonfire in a forest somewhere. Does Alda ever head into the woods to gather inspiration, to fully encapsulate the raw nature of… well nature?

We get a kick out you asking us that question because this is a subject we think about often, the relationship between a band’s subject matter and their lifestyle. We do go out into wilderness as a group sometimes, and we certainly do individually. We used to camp together pretty much every weekend and go on some pretty great adventures as a group, but our respective schedules and routines have changed a bit, so it’s less frequently a group thing these days. So basically we don’t bring our instruments out into the woods all that often anymore, but our time spent out in the wilder world does directly inform our music. 

Although we’re all involved in wilderness activities on some level, the truest lifestyle outdoorsman in our crew is really Jace, who is a pretty serious fisherman and a practitioner of traditional bow-hunting. He’s the guy who spends the most time out in the wilderness out of all of us, occasionally camping for weeks at a time, and is probably the one who draws the rawest inspiration from nature, as he particularly requires time out amongst the wilderness to uncover his inspiration to create music.

4) I hiked the Appalachian Trail a couple months ago, and made sure to listen to tunes that fit the scenery that was surrounding me, among my choice was "Tahoma". So my question is this; does it ever give you guys a kick to think that your music may be inspiring others while they are in the great outdoors? Or do things of that nature not matter as much, so long as it's being enjoyed?

From our point of view, if our music conjures up visions of the wilderness or inspires the listener to go out and experience the wild world, than we have successfully communicated as artists on that level and we think it’s really cool that some people resonate with it in that way. But when it comes down to it, music is a very subjective thing, and it would be arrogant and narrow-minded of us to set a specific criteria for how we think our music should be experienced. In a sense, even if someone is simply sitting in their downtown flat and letting the music carry them to a space of introspection and enjoyment, then we have also successfully communicated as artists, and in a roundabout way the very experiences that inspire us are still speaking to the listener, even if they’re not aware of it or care very much about what we’re talking about.
 

5) The ending to Shadow Of The Mountain is magnificent. Can you explain everything that is going on, between the chanting, fire crackling and what seems to be an animal call that I can't quite put my finger on?

Magnificent as it may be, we cannot take credit for it because it is a sample culled from the Japanese/Russian film Dersu Uzala, which was created and directed by Akira Kurosawa in the 1970’s.  This is one of our favorite films as well as being a very moving true story of a nomadic Nanai hunter in the Siberian Wilderness, and his relationship with a Russian exploratory team in the early twentieth century. The scene that the sample originates from depicts Dersu, alone and singing and making offerings of carved wood and Vodka to a fire. As he sings, the forest responds to him, and he listens and reacts in synergy with what is around him. The captain of the Russian exploration team, Vladimir Arsinev, watches him and later asks to sit by him. 

Dersu explains to him that his family died of smallpox in that very location years before, and that he is making offerings to them. You’d really have to see the movie to put it all in context. We deeply resonated with this story during the creation of this recording, and wanted include a piece of it in the album because Dersu’s story is very much related to the kinds of things we are addressing in our music. We placed it as a bridge between Shadow of the Mountain and Wandering Spirit, the latter being an offering to a close friend of ours who took his own life during the creation of the album.

6) If you had the power to bring one folklore creature to life which would it be?

Stephanie: It’s a toss-up between Trolls and Goblins, or Dragons maybe.

Michael: Trolls, they being the wrathful and cunning spirits of those wild places where Christians fear to tread. But all creatures of the old lore are cool.

Jace: I love Trolls, but Goblins and Orcs would be awesome... I could slay them indiscriminately with no remorse.

Tim: Bigfoot. It might help explain a few things.

7) I found this picture on the bands Facebook page, can you give us the story behind it and explain its use and significance?

That is a picture our friend Nadine took of the altar we construct at our shows. It’s something we’ve done since the very first show we played as Alda. The idea is to bring a piece of the forest, a representational piece of wildness into these performance spaces that are typically located in a very urban environment, such as Seattle. The altar is a circle of old-growth Douglas Fir bark which encloses young evergreen branches that we usually gather the day of the show, which in this photo are Hemlock. The skull in the center is a Coyote who was killed locally by a hunter in a way we found reprehensible, and so we decided to honor the animal in our own way and ritualistically use its remains as part of our shows. The bone above it is from a Blacktail Deer that we found in a hollow tree.

8) As per usual, let's discuss the album art behind "Tahoma". (I had a SHOM reader mention in the comments it could depict sockeye salmon before the mating ritual), what is it that is being depicted, and what is its significance within the album?

In order to place the symbolism of the cover painting in context we’re going to have to describe the history and concept of the album a bit. Tahoma is the Native Puyallup name for what is now referred to as Mount Rainier, an enormous volcano that completely dominates the landscape of the region, and the word translates to “Mother of the Waters”. The glaciers on the slopes of Mount Tahoma feed the rivers of the south Puget Sound region, and these rivers are truly the life’s-blood of the local ecology. They feed into the ocean and provide an entry for the salmon runs that are essential for the health of the region. 
Now, the ecology of this region has been seriously fucked with since advent of modern civilization in the Pacific Northwest, with nearly all of the forests being carved up and claimed by the timber industry, rivers being dammed, important natural predators being eradicated and the water life such as the Salmon being seriously abused by over-fishing and pollution. But the mountain still stands pretty much untouched, because the raw power of its very nature is currently far beyond the reach of the human hand. It still stands as it once was, and its glaciers continue to feed the rivers of the very lands that are ravaged in its shadow.

The cover artwork (which is an oil painting by Michael’s sister Naomi Korchonnoff) depicts the flow of the river from the mountain. In our original cassette release the concept was presented by a succession of pictures we had taken along with some poetic verse that was included in a drop-card, but for the re-release we kind of condensed it into a single image. The fish on the cover do look like Sockeye Salmon, which is not really biologically accurate to the region (Silver Salmon would be what you’d see in the rivers here), but the red-color of the Sockeye is metaphorically-placed to portray the river as the blood-vein of the forest. Salmon are an essential species of the region. 
They are born in the rivers, swim to the oceans where they live their life and later return to the rivers they were born in to spawn their young, during which and after they die and are consumed, giving nutrition to the flora and fauna of the land. On the bottom left corner of the painting there is a human skull amongst the riverbed, with a fish-skeleton protruding from its mouth. This reflects our view of human beings – that we, in the big picture are simply animals participating in the flow of natural forces. In our arrogance we forget that our bodies, in life and death feed the things we claim dominion over, and that we are completely integrated with and dependent on the cycles of these forces. We are elements of the incarnated dance of life and death in Nature.

9) If you were to be stranded in the wilderness for four days, with nothing but a dull hatchet, basic survival kit and a magical iPod with unlimited battery juice but could only fit five albums on it, which five albums would you choose and why?

Jace would probably try and use the iPod cord as a snare to catch something to eat, and we’d probably be listening to the forest more than anything. But as far as the music we’d listen to anytime… the early Ulver stuff for sure, particularly Bergettat and Kveldsangger. The first several Drudkh albums. The works of Hank Williams senior. Agalloch’s The Mantle. Vradiazei’s Return to the Forest. Windir, probably any album. Fearthainne, and the Elemental Chrysalis’s Dark Path to Spiritual Expansion. Sorry, we just can’t boil it down to five albums between all of us.  

10) What is something about todays society that you just can't wrap your head around?

We see people doing aggravatingly stupid shit pretty much every time we step outside or read the news, and we could certainly go on about it. Much of it couldn’t be said to be strictly modern problems either, as so much of what goes on has its roots in antiquity. But who are we to point fingers? We have strong feelings and convictions about life and how we want to live it, but we don’t have all the answers and we have our flaws. We all contribute and are part of the very worst qualities of modern life, in varying degrees. Whether or not the bullshit human beings are doing with their time in this age is an evolutionary inevitability is a philosophical question that has no clear objective answer, and is probably a waste of time to obsess over. It’s best to stay focused on creative action and keep a clear head about your values, because wallowing in negativity leads to personal stagnation, and then you’re living out an equally ridiculous existence to that of the very people you despise.
 

11) You guys drive that outdoorsy vibe through a more natural organic approach where as some other bands go for a more 'in your face' sound, incorporating traditional instrumentation or keyboard soundscapes. (Like Kroda or Borknagar) How do you feel about the bands that take the other route, do you still like it, or are you more of a purist mind?

We’re into some of those kinds of bands, including the two you mentioned, but it really doesn’t come naturally for us to create that kind of music. We’re not actually too technically-proficient as musicians… what we do is probably pretty literally the most we are capable of in the moment. We have a kind of simplistic jam-band approach to our music in some ways, and try to keep it gracefully simple and folkish, which is the sound that we like the best and feel the most natural creating. Although taking a synth-heavy approach is not aesthetically what we are going for, we have no real opinion regarding those who do, depending on how they use the tools available to them. Many of the Black Metal bands we’re into have different approaches to this music than we do.

 12) "Tahoma" has shown Alda's style and sound evolve vastly from the days of the self-titled release in 2009. What has taken place in the band to create this transformation?

The songs featured on our first full-length and demo were written between ’07 and ’09, when we were still honing our craft, still refining our understanding of ourselves and our beliefs, and when we were still recovering scumbags. It’s been a hard, weird road to maturity (a road we’re still on), and the quality of an artist’s craft is deepened by introspection and discipline. When it actually came down to recording the self-titled album in 2009 we had already written and were performing versions of the songs In the Wake of an Iron Wind and Tearing of the Weave, but recognized that these vestigial songs were best documented when we had the time and correct space to really focus on them, which turned out to be a pretty good call. 

Our first album really could have been far more developed than it was, but back then we just simply weren’t disciplined enough, and even then most of us were pretty dissatisfied with that recording because we knew we were capable of much more than we gave. Regardless of its flaws however, that record does stand as a good kind of “opening statement” and basic summary of our ideas, musically and ideologically. 

Our first album was also recorded in a more professional studio that we weren’t very comfortable in, and was recorded and mixed in its entirety within two days, whereas much more time was spent on Tahoma as well as it being a home-recording, which was much more conducive for getting down to what we really wanted to make. We have our friend Nate Myers to thank for that, who spent a lot of time with us recording and mixing it, and who patiently and creatively helped us manifest our vision of what were yearning to create. So really it all comes down to time, self-reflection and discipline.

13) The floor toms sound like a tribal war drum summoning a rallying cry, it's use is often and quite fantastic, what effect does this have in significance to the album?

The drum is described in some traditions as the Shaman’s horse, the pulse that carries the consciousness to the spirit world. The trancelike-approach to drumming used in indigenous traditions from around the world are an influence, yes, and the blast-beat style of rhythm that characterizes Black Metal can be assistive in creating a kind of meditative and trance-inducing technique, depending on how the song is put together. The sonic attributes you mentioned are definitely a motivation for playing the drums that way, but additionally Michael uses a rather simple five-piece drum kit and he doesn’t use double-kick drum when he plays, so full and creative use of this somewhat minimalistic setup is necessary to accentuate the rhythmic momentum of the music.

14) I honestly struggle to find any flaws in "Tahoma", if you could go back and change anything about the album would you? Is there an element that you think may be amiss?

It’s hard to answer that question objectively, because we’ve all spent an absurd amount of time buried in that album and we’re pretty intimate with its flaws. But we’re pretty satisfied with it, and it has been about two years since recording it, so it doesn’t make sense to nit-pick at this point. But the album is far from perfect to us – it is merely a closer representation of what we’re shooting for.

15) The genre of black metal is an elitist one, it almost has to be to remain in its "pure form". Is it ever a daunting task creating music that is aligned within the genre that can tear you apart quicker than a pack of wolves?

It isn’t ever daunting to us because whether or not we’re staying true to the specifics of the genre really has no influence on our music. Also, the social politics of music scenes are really quite hilarious and should never be taken too seriously. What is most important is honest expression in one’s art and staying true to yourself, and there will always naysayers no matter what you do, so it’s best not to put yourself on a pedestal, as well as being able to tell the difference between constructive criticism and shit-talking. 
We’re not making music with the intention of being strictly any kind of genre. Much of what we do comes out as Black Metal because we feel that is the best way to express what we feel we need to get out. That, and we’ve been huge fans of it since our adolescence and the whole culture and aesthetic approach have become part of who we are artistically. So maybe we just haven’t matured very much as people in some ways, since we’re basically doing the same thing we did as kids.

16) The world ends tomorrow, which five albums are at the top of your list for 2012?

It’s too soon to answer a question like that, honestly. But we’d like to give a heads up regarding some music our friends are making that we think people should listen to in the upcoming year and beyond. Check out the Nulla Cur and Will O’ the Wisp albums via Eternal Warfare Records, Blood of the Black Owl’s Light the Fires!, and the long-expected album Avifauna by Fauna, which was supposed to be out last year, and should emerge this year.

the end. (thanks for reading)

7 comments:

  1. very interested in buying this

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  2. That was deep, these interviews are always great

    Grabbing the album now

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  3. The album is great, and I was surprised to find out Michael's sister created the artwork. I think it fits the music superbly. Clever trick using red to represent life-blood on the salmon, I was sure it was Sockeye spawning. Learn something every day, now the fishnerd in me wants to go learn more about silver salmon, since I'm unfamiliar with them. I want to drink beer and go fishing with these guys, lol.

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    1. Yeah, the album art was spot on. Down to earth dudes, I'm sure they would be rad to fish and have some beers with.

      Also, I am told that they are sitting on some repressed vinyls that are available for sale, let me know if you would like a copy, I'm sure as fuck getting one. Also I'll look into getting the orders from SHOM signed by the band.

      cheers

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  4. count me in for a vinyl.

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  5. Fishing and bow-hunting seems completely against nature as it changes and affects it. I still love Alda's music though :)

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    1. All of nature changes and affects itself. Fishing and bow-hunting on the individual level, while honoring and respecting the animal, is much different than taking a huge fishing boat out, turning life into commodities, and exporting for profit.

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