Thursday 7 July 2016

Rediscovering Your Roots - An Interview with Justin from ANCESTORS

Ancestors was some sort of a phenomena, and their third album “In Dreams and Time” released in 2012 by Tee Pee Records combined the heaviness of doom, the elegance and complicity of prog and the elements of psych rock atmosphere. Simply put, Ancestors is a doom outfit but with an avant-garde approach to the genre. This third album showed Ancestors progress consider first, more stoner-based, albums, and look - it was something that makes you think: “These men are going to be a really big band!” But these men have been silent since the “In Dreams and Time” release, and the cassette reissue of their debut album “Neptune in Fire” is their latest news; so I had to apply directly to Justin Maranga (guitars, vocals) for more information.

Hi Justin! Thanks for the time you found for doing the interview; first of all, you know this vital question - what are Ancestors currently doing now? What's band's current status?

We’re currently in the middle of recording our next album. I was in the studio last night, tracking some guitars.

Oh! Great news! What's your progress? Are you just starting or already finishing the road?

We’re right in the middle of it. Still away from being finished, but we’ve recorded enough to know that it sounds great.

Your previous record “In Dreams and Time” was released four long years ago, how much of that Ancestors left now?

Lineup-wise? Only two of us. But Daniel, our drummer, joined right before In Dreams and Time came out and has been a big part of the writing process for the new album.

And music or concept-wise?

Musically it sounds like Ancestors continuing to grow up and evolve. I don’t really want to say much more than that.

I’ve found the news about “Neptune with Fire” re-issue as cassette edition; do you really feel that this material is good for tape format?

Honestly? No. I don’t really think tapes are much good for anything other than thrash, black metal and post-punk. For the most part they sound like shit. But we needed to raise a bit of money for recording, so we wanted to do something that wouldn’t cost much to make (minimize the risk of loss) and people are into the tape thing right now, so we figured we’d give that a shot.

Ancestors – Neptune with Fire

Thanks for the fair answer Justin! You were talking about lineup changes, so do you continue only with Daniel or have you already find new blood for Ancestors?

We’ve discussed this a few times, but we haven’t come to a firm decision. We may just keep the band down to the three of us for writing/recording, but get people to play bass for us live. But who knows! Although every member of the band has contributed to the writing, Jason and I have always written the bulk of the music, so we’re not really in a rush to bring anyone else into the band. The trio dynamic is working really well right now (plus we all get along for once).

By the way, what are your memories of that period when you worked over the first Ancestors’ album?

We had been a three-piece leading up to that record, and had just recently expanded to five. We were still trying to find our sound (not realizing at the time that the sound was always going to evolve). Truthfully, we intended Neptune With Fire to be a demo. So some of the performances on that record are just first takes that we probably would have thrown away if we’d known it was going to be released as our first album. But I guess it sounds human, which is good. Anyway, those were fun times. The original lineup of the band, while probably not the best lineup musically, was really a lot of fun and totally set the tone and spirit of the band that still stands today. And we’re all still buds, though Chico lives on another continent. Most of us actually still collaborate musically in various ways outside of Ancestors, believe it or not.

You recorded the second album “Of Sound Mind” pretty fast – it was released just one year after “Neptune with Fire”, how do you value your progress with the sophomore album today?

It actually didn’t happen quite as fast as it seems. We recorded Neptune With Fire in early 2007 and it wasn't released until late 2008. So by the time Neptune came out, we’d actually almost finished writing Of Sound Mind. I don’t really identify much with the first record anymore. I think Of Sound Mind was where we became Ancestors. We’ve continued to evolve since then, but I think that's where our sound really started.

As I understood Dune Altar is your label, what is its story? What kind of releases do you prepare on it for 2016?

The initial idea was just to use it as a vehicle to release Ancestors off-label stuff, solo releases and maybe our other bands. Then we realized that we wanted to release other stuff. So the first release was that cassette reissue of Neptune With Fire. The second release is going to be a reissue of a cassette by a crossover thrash band from North Carolina, called Ignorance. Hoping to have that out in the next month or so. We’ll see from there. Jason is working on some solo stuff that will hopefully see daylight soon. We’re talking to a black metal artist about releasing his stuff. There are things in the works!

Ancestors – Bounty of Age

I remember that artwork of Ancestors “Of Sound Mind” album was literally everywhere, then was “In Dreams and Time” and a damned lot of doom and metal blogs and sites produced positive reviews, it was an obvious situation. How do you see the band's growth? What did create Ancestors' reputation?

Our growth musically? Or in popularity?

I guess that both variants go hand in hand, though some people prefer raw stuff... So yes, lets say... Ancestors evolved coherently, how natural was it? And how people did get these changes?

Well, musically our evolution is just a natural thing. Like I said, we just write and whatever comes out is what you hear on the records. The evolution musically is probably based on expanding tastes and influences as well as getting better as musicians and songwriters, together and individually.

As far as popularity, I don’t think we’re all that popular. Most people have no idea who we are. Part of that is our fault, as we’ve never been much for touring. That being said, I’ve definitely seen our stuff all over blogs, so it’s cool some that people out there are listening. And generally our fans have been very accepting of our evolution, although our EP, Invisible White alienated some fans (we didn’t really care).

The artwork of “On Dreams and Time” puzzles me still. Does it somehow connected with the lyrics?


OK, but how did you pick up this one? What did attract you into it?

We worked with a couple artists who collaborated with us on the idea. We liked their ideas and rolled with it.

It’s worth noting that we took a page from the Hipgnosis playbook for that one and actually shot it all in-camera. Each one of those pictures of the model is a photo that we took and then blew up life-sized and took to the next location. No photoshop trickery! It was pretty fun.

In Dreams and Time” shows your avant-garde approach to doom metal, how it was formed? What made you do the step further genre’s boarders?

We never intended to play doom metal or any other genre. We just write and it comes out how it comes out. The gear we play definitely contributes to the doom metal aspects of the music. I don’t pretend to be ignorant to the fact that there is a doom influence, but that is waning as we progress and evolve as a band. We all love heavy music, but we love a lot of other things too. I’m sure people would be surprised by the breadth of each member’s musical taste. Or maybe you wouldn't! Anyway,

You know it's said that success is 95% of labour and 5% of talent, do you agree with that? How much time do you usually spend on composing and recording?

Well, that depends on how you measure success. Financially? That’s probably a true statement. Creatively? It’s probably less true. In music specifically, people tend to think that because so and so wasn’t an amazing guitar player it means that they weren’t talented. A lot of musicians are incredibly talented without being particularly good at an instrument.

Anyway, we spend a fair amount of time composing. Obviously we haven’t been writing nonstop for four years, but we have been working on the new batch of songs on and off for four years. That’s a fair amount of labor, I suppose.

Recording, on the other hand, used to be a very quick process for us. We’ve never had the budget to spend a bunch of time in the studio. We’ve usually had to slam every record out in 7-10 days, including mixing (which is ridiculous with the music we make). The only thing we spent more time on was Invisible White. But now we’re recording at our own pace and it feels really good. And it’s going to show.

Ancestors – In Dreams and Time

I guess that spiritual component is another feature of Ancestors, what is your message?

No message. We have a perspective, but no message.

What role do live gigs play on band's life? Is it vital for you to play periodically?

Not a huge role. We've never been much of a touring band. I’m finally going to admit it haha. We’ve been a band for a decade and we’ve never done a full US tour. How ridiculous is that?! But we’ve also never had a booking agent in the US and no one has ever asked us to go on tour with them. It’s rough booking your own tours and now we’ve all got jobs. That being said, we do get the itch to play live after we haven’t for a while (I’m starting to get it now). We’ve been playing the same songs for four years, so I’m really looking forward to playing some new stuff. I have no idea what these new songs even sound like when played as a band! Shit, a lot of it is going to have to be re-written for a live format! Anyway, there will be shows and there will be some touring once we’ve got some new music out there.

Justin, you also play guitar in Night Horse. What is it about? Is this outfit active now?

I like to think of Night Horse as being in hibernation. We probably won’t ever make a record again. We’re technically broken up, but I wouldn’t rule out playing a show for fun some day. There’s really only one member standing in the way of doing that, so if he pulls his head out of his ass, we’ll do it. But everyone’s got other stuff going on. Sam sings in a hardcore band called Obliterations. Nick plays in a band called The People. Jamie plays drums in fucking Bad Religion!

Also, the current and former members of Ancestors have some really great other bands! Jason and Brandon have a band called Deth Crux with guys from Buried at Sea and Lightning Swords of Death. Brandon has another band called Glaare, with his wife, and they’re fucking great. Brandon is also playing drums for Buried at Sea, now that they’ve reunited. Daniel plays drums in Cetacean and Horse the Band, guitar in Vow and bass in Entry. Oh and Nick plays bass in a Tom Petty cover band called Heavy Petty.

Thank you for your time Justin, that was my last questions for today. Let’s resume our conversation – what are Ancestors plans for 2016?

Finish recording. Maybe play a 10th anniversary show? But recording is the number one priority right now.

Words by Aleks Evdokimov and Justin Maranga