Thursday 5 November 2015

Far Out, Mammatus - Interview with Aaron from Mammatus

Psychedelic Space Rockers – Mammatus – are perhaps one of the most weirdest, strangest and exciting bands around within the Psychedelic/Stoner/Space Rock world. They have showed a wealth of creativity in the last 10 years they've existed as a band.

Epic spaced out drone based riffs that can last a lifetime. Their last album – Heavy Mental – won a huge range of admirers within the Doom/Stoner Community as it was one of the strangest audio experiences you could hear in 2013. I classed it as their best album to date as it showed that the band weren't afraid to change their sound for one heavy as hell sonic experience.

Two years later the band are about to release their 4th album – Sparkling Waters – and from the sounds of opening track – Sparkling Waters Part One – this album is going to be another awesome album from these guys.

I was luckily enough recently to get an interview with Aaron from Mammatus. Here's what went down....

Hi guys, Thanks for doing this interview. How are things with you today.

Far Out.

For people who haven’t heard your band before, Can you give a brief history of how the band came together and where it is now.

My brother Nicky and I had been playing music together since we were kids. Our first jam sessions occurred before I had a drum set. Nicky would play guitar through a little amp and I would bang on plastic boxes and hit a metal dish filled with coins for cymbals. We had a few different bands as teenagers, playing at high school Battle of the Bands and house shows and coffee shops and so on.

Eventually we started a band called Sad Monsters and recorded an album with Nicky and I playing all the instruments and mixing in all kinds of weird found sounds and field recordings and stuff. We wanted to create a live band to play songs from the album and we ended up with our friend Chris Freels on bass, who we knew from high school. Chris was that kid at school who knew the name of every person in every important punk band there ever was. He was also pretty into metal. Once he started playing live with us our music just started getting heavier. We were always into Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and stuff, but Chris was the first guy to introduce us to more modern heavy bands like Sleep and Neurosis.

After a while it became apparent that we were transforming into a different band altogether, so we decided to reform and became Mammatus. We played a few shows as a trio and then added Mike Donofrio on second guitar. Those were the good old days in Santa Cruz, around 2004 and 2005 there were a bunch of really good really weird bands playing every week at dive bars and warehouses. Santa Cruz had recently gotten some attention as a psychedelic hub thanks to bands like Comets on Fire, Six Organs of Admittance, and Residual Echoes. I got a job at Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz and met Adam Payne of Residual Echoes. I helped him record some of his songs for a EP that Rocket Recordings was putting out. I sent them a Mammatus demo and they were immediately into it. Adam was also doing a record for Holy Mountain at the time, so I sent them a demo too, and they were also very into it.

In fact Holy Mountain wanted to put out the demo just as it was. I think it was live to two track cassette. We recorded our first album by ourselves in our parents garage using Pro Tools with a Digi 001 interface and a bunch of really cheap pre amps. Rocket and Holy Mountain put it out and it seemed like lots of people liked it. Suddenly we were being asked to play much bigger shows opening for way bigger bands, it was pretty fun. We went on some tours around the US and Canada and had a blast. I was also playing drums for Residual Echoes and we did a tour with them where I played in both bands. In 2007 we released The Coast Explodes and toured North America with Acid Mothers Temple.

After that we decided to slow down a little bit. We were all in our mid 20's and trying to figure out what we were going to do with our lives. We all got married and started careers and had kids and bought houses. We scaled down and became a power trio again. We began writing new music that eventually became the album Heady Mental, but due to the obligations of life it was a very slow process. Heady Mental didn't come out until 2013, and by then I'm sure lots of people had forgotten about us. Now we're back with our most ambitious record yet, and we seem to be moving at a better pace these days.

I’ve been a fan of your band for a number of years now. Always wanted to know why you called yourselves Mammatus.

Our music has always been an attempt at reflecting the awesome power and beauty of our natural world, so we wanted a name rooted in nature that also communicated a large sense of scale and general far out-ness. Mammatus clouds are large and heavy and beautiful and far out, which is how we try to make our music. Nicky came up with the name from looking in his cloud photo book.

How would you describe your music as I’ve seen Mammatus been described as a million different things. What would you guys call your music.

Post Wizard New Mage Far Out Casual Spa Rock Breath Metal

You’re about to release your 4th album – Sparkling Waters – and I’ve heard it’s going to be your most diverse, experimental and heaviest record yet. And hearing the 22 minute opening track – Sparkling Waters Part One – I feel that is the case. What can people expect from the new record.

This is our first album that was made in an actual recording studio, so hopefully people will enjoy the enhanced sound quality. It's quite expansive, lots of finger tapped guitar arpeggios, lots of synths, lots of sick riffs, lots of ambient zone outs, a few pastoral reflective passages, and even a straight up Tangerine Dream style jam. It's a double LP designed for a complete sit down zone out session. It's a commitment to listen. We're trying to conjure up in you the feeling we have while standing on a cliff below a redwood forest watching the ocean sparkling and exploding beneath us.

Your last album – Heavy Mental – was perhaps your most diverse record and experimental record to date. It took me a few listens to fully enjoy the record compared to your earlier albums. Were you pleased with the response that album received. As it did receive a ton of great reviews though it took some people time to fully appreciate it.

Heady Mental is a weird record, I can't really say I've heard anything quite like it. It certainly hasn't been a huge commercial success. We are just happy that anyone at all would like it and buy it because that is what allows us to keep making music. We have never really expected much exposure or critical acclaim because we know we're kind of a weird band that doesn't get out much.

Was that the original intention when you released Heavy Mental. Release some different what came before it.

I think our intention was to challenge our brains and hands to see how far they could go. The concept was that we would make a record about making a record, trying to communicate the intensity of tripping out on a riff over and over again, trying to piece different small fragments of sound together, getting lost in the clouds and layers of constantly changing ideas. Often times our jam sessions would leave us in a sort of stupor, Brain Drain we called it. That became the theme of the record. We got faster and tighter and proggier. We had just gotten a bit bored of sludge and wanted to widdly wah a little more.

Was – Sparkling Waters – an easy or hard album to write and record for. Did you do anything different recording this album compared to your other albums.

I can't even remember writing these songs, we've been playing them for so long. After a while they just sort of feel like they've always been there. I think writing the songs comes pretty naturally for us, we just gotta be patient and let the song form over time. We move very slowly to allow the song to evolve and we don't record until that evolution is over. That can take years. We recorded this album in two quick bursts over two different weekends. It is the first time we've worked in a proper studio. We did it in San Francisco with Phil Manley, who is absolutely a most righteous dude to work with.

What is the song-writing dynamic in the band. Is it down to one individual or is it a group collective.

We just jam forever until a song forms. Often times we have a bunch of little short riffs that we piece together and flesh out over time.

Do you all use an advanced setup when recording or playing live. As you guys have pack a lot of different sounds into your music.

Nothing too fancy. When we play live it's just guitar, bass, and drums. Nicky can conjure up quite a bit of atmosphere with his guitar pedals. In the studio we like to expand more and add synthesizers, piano, flute, pedal steel, field recordings and effects, that's the fun of making records. These days we like to think of the guitar, bass, and drum tracks as a canvas to layer all sorts of other far out sounds on top of.

You started the band back in 2005. Did you ever expect that it would last this long and over the course of 4 albums.

Yes I've always expected to be playing in a band with my brother. Nicky and I have been playing together since before we both knew how to play. Chris has been with us so long now he's sort of like the third brother. I can't imagine not being in Mammatus. We don't plan on stopping any time soon.

What have been your personal highlights with Mammatus. And if you could change anything what would it be and why.

My personal highlight is getting to hold my very own record in my hands for the first time. Growing up being obsessed with vinyl it just seemed like a far away dream to be able to make our own record, I'm still kind of blown away that I've been lucky enough to do it multiple times. If I could change anything I guess it would be nice if we had more commercial success, as it would be number one dream come true for us if we could actually make a living playing music.

Will you be touring much to promote the new album. If so, where will you be performing. Are there plans for an Overseas/European Tour in the near future.

Unfortunately we have no plans to tour. We all have lots of commitments with jobs and small children, we can't really afford to go on the road. Hopefully that will change one day.

It’s good to see you’re releasing the new album on Vinyl. Looks a fantastic design. Did you have much input to the design of the vinyl. Or was that left to the record label(s).

I took the photographs and did the design for this record and for Heady Mental. Spiritual Pajamas is a great label because they pretty much let us do whatever we want and they love it.

Which bands and artists influenced you as musicians. Any particular bands or albums stand out.

Popol Vuh, ZZ Top, The Ventures, Eno, and Bach.

With 2015 drawing to a close. What have been your favourite albums to listen to this year.

We all listen to lots of new age. Not much current music. As far as records that came out this year I like “1000 Days” by Wand, “Where all is Fled” by Steve Hauschildt, and “Buy Now” by Eyeliner.

Thanks for doing the interview guys. All the best with your new album. Can’t wait to hear it. Before you go do you have anything to say to your fans.

Thank you for taking the trip with us. It is for you that we live and explore our dreams, it is because of you that we live and explore our dreams. Because of you the three of us feel a deep sense of purpose and you validate the joy of our existence. We are deeply grateful to you for this.

Words by Steve Howe and Aaron Emmert

I want to thank Aaron for taking the time out to talking to me. Much appreciated. Sparkling Waters will be available to buy on CD/DD/Vinyl from November 20th 2015.