Tuesday 7 June 2016

SIMON SAYS - An Interview with Nick Shallcross from Simon Magus

Simon Magus isn’t only the famous ancient dude which story you could read in the Bible but is also a bloody good doom band from Toledo, Ohio. They're heavy, they're melodic, they know how to produce damned catchy tunes, but till now they have only their debut album in their discography – “The First Year of Catastrophe”.

Well, indeed it was released nearly the year ago so if you missed it by then just go and check, it out as it really deserves it. The band was silent for some period so I got in touch with Nick Shallcross to clarify a few points. Nick is responsible for bass and guitars in Simon Magus and he’s also member of sludgy outfit Apotheosis, and he has a lot to tell say.

Hail Nick! How are you? What's going on in Simon Magus life?

Hey Aleks- I’m doing OK thanks for asking! Lately Simon Magus has been on a small break and we’ve been busy with our local pseudo-label Black Swamp Collective. We released prog-punk power trio TroubleGiant’s debut album ‘Eins! Zwei! Nein!’ on April 8, and robot-monster-sludge-rock overlords Megaton Hammer are finishing up tracking on their new record due out hopefully by the beginning of summer.

Hm, Nick… You’re from Toledo, Ohio, and there’s Great Black Swamp nearby, so I believe that you named the label after it. So here’s the question: is this swamp really so black and great?! And can we find any local influences or mentality in your songs?

Haha thats a good question! Historically speaking the swamp that was here originally was so big and vast that it took up a huge corner of the state. In fact, the Native Americans never settled there because it was too thick and bug infested for humans, plus the land was underwater for half of the year. European settlers eventually drained the swamp and turned it all to farmland, but it’s always raining and flooding around here and everything gets covered in mold. I’m sure that the grey skies and damp air effects everybody in the area’s creative process sooner or later, but its nothing we deliberately try to draw from.

How did you create the band and why did you choose to name it after this famous Samaritan magus? Does he appear in your songs?

The band was started by our singer Wes and guitar player Micah. They had been talking about putting something together for ages, and everybody’s schedules just happened to be open enough that we naturally came together. We’ve all been friends for a long time and played in different bands with each other over the years so the chemistry felt good from the beginning. Our other guitarist Schmid came up with the idea for the name, and we all liked it well enough so it stuck. There’s plenty of mystery surrounding the historical Simon Magus, and that leaves a lot of room for the listener to interpret it as they see fit. He doesn’t really show up in our subject matter, but personally I like the gnostic doctrine that’s attributed to him were he says there’s a ‘Boundless Power’ in everybody.

Simon Magus – Blank Tombs

Your music is a mix of stoner, doom and psychedelic hard rock music. How did you see Simon Magus when you started the band?

We all have wildly varying musical tastes, but one place where it overlaps is with early doom bands like St. Vitus and Trouble, plus we all like the NWOBHM stuff. Honestly when we started out we didn’t think about it much, it was just each of us throwing a couple of songs in the pile. Once it got going though I think we were all a little surprised at how well everything came together.

Nick I know that you released Simon Magus debut "The First Year Of Catastrophe" on July 2015 in digital format, has this been released on CD?

I’m happy to announce that CDs are finally becoming a reality! As we speak we’re finalizing the layout and making sure everything is in order. This is a new experience for us so there’s a bit of a learning curve, but we’re getting there. We’re also launching a web store for the label where all of the bands will have their albums and other merch available. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Bandcamp pages for more news on that…

So "The First Year Of Catastrophe" will be on Black Swamp Collective, right? Did you search for labels to release it?

Yeah when we make CDs they will be released on Black Swamp Collective. To be honest we never really planned on looking for labels. We figured that most labels are overwhelmed with submissions so we decided to just put the record out there ourselves and and if it does well enough then maybe we’ll get somebody’s attention.

"The First Year Of Catastrophe" is a pretty intriguing name for the album, what meaning did you put in this title?

Originally we really wanted it to be self-titled, but we realized pretty quick that if somebody was googling Simon Magus they were gonna get a lot of results that had nothing to do with us. So we wanted to come up with a phrase that was not only unique, but also gave the impression that this was our first album, and a little bit of what to expect when you heard it. There was also a lot of actual catastrophe surrounding everyone in the band during the time that we recorded it, both personal and technical. We lost the basic tracks to the complete record once, and parts of it multiple times. Amps blew up (literally on fire), master tapes got eaten, hard drives crashed, studios got flooded, jobs were lost, kids got sick, relationships broke up, tons of family disasters, I had chronic numbness in my arms for about a year, there may have been a little bit of jail time for some of us in there, it just went on and on…

Oh! Simon Magus gone through a period of natural disaster indeed! How are your arms now? Do you have enough power in both to surprise us with a handful of striking solos on the next record?

Yeah thanks they’re doing better! For a while there I couldn’t play or really do anything with my arms out in front of me for more than 30 seconds without my hands going dead. I’d even wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to feel anything past my shoulders, it was pretty scary. I still have a little trouble every now and then but nothing like it was. Hopefully we’ll get to recording soon and I can start shredding away on the new tunes!

Nick, why did you want to have self-titled album? True to say I don't understand that tendency, there are a lot of albums just titled after bands names and albums like "Vol.1"...

I think a lot of bands choose to have self-titled or numbered albums mainly because they want the music to speak for itself, at least that’s why we wanted to. Plus, after you’ve written all of the music and come up with song titles it can be tough to invent an album title that really pulls it all together.

Simon Magus sound is clear and heavy, its production closes to perfect. How much time did you spend improving it?

Thanks, I’m glad you like it! With all the shit that fell from the sky while we were making the record its a miracle it ever got released haha! I’d say overall it took a couple of years, but most of that was because of all of those problems I described, and there were long periods where nothing happened at all. In the end the intermittent schedule might have helped make a better sounding record. I wouldn’t hear it for a long time, then I’d get a chance to work on it and realize ‘what the hell was I thinking, that sounds like crap!’ and push everything into a better space sonically.

What would you like to improve in Simon Magus sound on the next record? Or do you have something new that you’d like to try on it?

I had a lot of trouble getting the guitars to sit right and sound balanced when I was mixing. In fact, at first I was only going to play bass on the record. It wasn’t until everybody else finished recording that I thought ‘this doesn’t sound thick enough, I think I need to double all the guitars… and I guess I’ll lay down some solos while I’m at it’ haha! I think I’ll be a lit more careful with everybody’s tone next time from the beginning so that mixing can be a much faster process.

By the way, the band already started work over new stuff, what’s your progress man?

The music for the second record is completely written, and we’ve been recording demo versions of the songs for Wes so he can throw his magic on them. We might even have more songs than we need so there may be a 7” or an EP in the near future as well. This time around we have access to an excellent location for tracking, so hopefully the process will be a little less chaotic.

Do you set any dates for release this time? And did you get any offers from labels? How would you measure interest of people to "The First Year Of Catastrophe”?

No, we haven’t set any release dates yet- although we’re all pretty eager to get this next set of songs together. Overall the response to the album has been really positive. We’ve sold quite a few copies so far and generated way more interest than any of us ever thought we would.

Simon Magus – In League with Suffering

You have some cool songs titles in this album's track list, do lyrics play important role for you? Is it mostly fiction stories or is it something personal?

Haha that’s the million dollar question! Wes titles the songs and writes all of the lyrics, and his process is an amazing thing really. Since we don’t all get together to practice, we usually each write our songs individually and then arrange them via text messages and emails. Wes usually comes up with a lot of input at that point to make his vocal ideas work. We’re all happy to oblige because we know he’s got something good up his sleeve, but none of us know what to expect until he comes in to record his tracks. It’s kind of exciting really. I can’t really say whether its personal for fiction-based or not, but I can say that his writing style is very open to interpretation. In a way its almost like whatever meaning the listener brings to the words is as important as the meaning that Wes originally intended.

There's a song "Eulogy for the Elephant Man", what did attract your attention to this subject?

I’m pretty sure that David Lynch is one of Wes’ favorite directors, so it was inevitable that he’d come up with something in tribute. Plus, the story of John Merrick is pretty doomy. I think a lot of us have felt like disfigured outcasts shunned by society at one time or another. Then again the lyrics seem to point to a more self-inflicted misery, but that’s just what I get out of it.

What about the song Sheitan? Did you argue the idea of this track?

Sheitan was originally Wes’ idea, he wanted a song that started off rockin and then broke down into a mellower part for him to sing over halfway through. Schmid wrote the riffs and I pieced it all together. We recorded the two halves of the song completely separately. Nobody except me ever even heard both halves together until the final mixes were done hahaha

Nick as I see your first band is Tomorrow that existed since middle of 90's, it's said that the band has recorded two full length albums but they were never released. How did you spend those years with Tomorrow?

Mostly in the basement haha! Back then both thrash and death metal were really popular in our area, so as a doom band Mark and I had a tough time carving our own niche. We only played a handful of shows, and mostly just wrote and recorded music for ourselves. Some of our friends liked what we did and spread it around a bit, but we never really tried to do much with it. Self-promotion was a much different thing back then, the internet was just barely starting to be available and computers were waaay out of our budget. I’ve been trying to dig around and find the masters of those two old records so we can give them a proper release, and I found one but the other might be gone. There’s also a record we did in 2009 called Fragments that I’m remixing for release hopefully within the next couple of months.

Such great news! What does this record consist of?

Its a short conceptual group of songs that Mark wrote, very doomy but a bit technical at times. Melodic vocals, a lot of harmonies, he was in a rough place at the time and I think as a record it captures that well.

Man, you also play in sludge / death doom band Apotheosis, it looks like deeply underground project, but you already have two full length albums, what are your plans for the future of this band?

Apotheosis is a whole other beast, and its definitely not for everyone. In a way it’s an extension of Tomorrow, or maybe more accurately those bands are two sides of the same coin. They’re both doom, but they’re also about as opposite from each other as you can get. We do have a rack of songs that we’re going to get around to recording sometime soon, but we don’t have any arrangements or plans pinned down. I’m pretty sure there will be more emphasis on improvisation than before, that’s something we’ve always wanted to explore a bit more. We’ve even been toying with the idea of doing some shows where all we do is improv, but it would have to be the right situation. Lately Mark and I have been putting more effort into Simon Magus than Apotheosis, although that may change after the next album gets finished.

Do you separate emotions and efforts you put into Simon Magus and Apotheosis? How do you differ these bands for yourself?

Its really pretty easy for me to keep all of the groups separate, each one of them is a different kind of outlet. Apotheosis is much darker and angrier, with a lot of improv and experimentation. Simon Magus is a more song oriented and composed group effort. I also have been in two other groups that Black Swamp Collective will be releasing new material from someday soon.

Nick, I would like to thank you for your time and this interview – thanks man, really! I hope that you gain much more attention with next Simon Magus album and Relapse will release both albums on vinyl and give you money for nice video. But well – that’s all for today, do you have few more words for our readers?

I just want to say thanks to everybody who’s taken the time to dig into our music, and thanks to you Aleks for taking an interest in us!

Words by Aleks Evdokimov and Nick Shallcross