Wednesday 5 April 2017

An Interview With MOUNTAIN GOD

Mountain God formed in 2012 and since then they have released 2 excellent EP's in 2013's – Experimentation On The Unwilling and 2015's Forest Of The Lost. Both great EP's showcasing the band's monolithic bleak style of Sludge, Doom, Stoner and Post-Metal.

The band have just released their stunning new album – Bread Solstice – which impressed the hell out of me earlier this year. With it's bleak passages and heavy sludge/doom grooves. It's starting to win some praise within the Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal community.

I was asked to do an interview with the guys and I gladly accepted as I wanted to find more about Mountain God. So here's an epic interview with the band.

Hi guys. How are things with you today.

Ben: Doing well, Steve, thanks for asking! I am currently on spring break (I’m a history teacher by day). So, it’s been a lot of reading, travelling, resting, and painting for me. And some music for good measure!

Can you give a brief history of how the band came about and where it is today.

Ben: I’d say the official birth of Mountain God was August 2012, when I met Nikhil Kamineni at St Vitus, a serious metal bar and venue in Brooklyn, NY. I had started writing the initial Mountain God songs sometime around September 2011. I couldn’t find anyone serious where I lived, so I started poking around craigslist. Clearly, Brooklyn was the place to be if you were into metal. So, I met Ian Murray, our original drummer, and we banged out the first 3 MG songs in hourly rental spaces in both Westchester and BK.

When we met Nik, who brought in our keyboardist, Jon Powell, the original lineup was truly solidified. We wrote two well received EPs- “Experimentation on the Unwilling”, and “Forest of the Lost”, and played a number of cool shows throughout 2013 and 2014. Our lineup changed around then, as Ian got busy with work, and Jon decided to move out to LA, where he formed the band Spirit Collector. I met Ryan Smith (Thera Roya) at a random show (I think it was Grizzlor at Grand Victory) and a month or so later I asked him to join the band on drums.

From that point on, we were a 3 piece. It was this lineup that cut Bread Solstice, which I’d estimate was about an 18 month long project. Before that, we had played a lot of awesome shows together in NYC, Philly, Baltimore, and Boston. We then decided that our primary focus, as a band, would be crafting a full length regardless of how long it took to make. It was a scary decision, given how short the public’s attention span is these days. That said, it worked out really well, and people seem to really dig what we’ve created.

How would you describe your overall sound. As you guys play a different style of Sludge/Doom Metal. Very bleak in parts but with some superb Progressive Stoner sounds.

Ben: We’ve been called everything from experimental, to sludge, to atmo-sludge, to crossover metal, to post doom, and psych-metal. Personally, I don’t mind too much how we’re labeled. My most important goal is to simply produce honest, heavy music. While each of our records is a different beast, I do think they all have some things in common, including a healthy mix of heavy riffing provided by guitars and bass, and ambiance created by noise, synths, and keyboards. The standout difference is in the vocals, which have changed a lot since the first record.

Lastly, you’re right in saying that “Bread Solstice” is definitely more progressive than our earlier work. We were consciously trying to push our own boundaries in order to produce something that was both fresh sounding and new to our ears. We want to avoid becoming a cover band of ourselves, so to speak.

I also want to point out that Nik’s role with all of the noise and synths cannot be understated. That sound is really the glue that binds the riffs together.

So we are here to talk about your debut album – Bread Solstice. What can people expect from the album.

Ben: It represents existential crisis, in my opinion, centering on the protagonist of the story- a young man who has given his life in order to bring rain to his community. I hope people will take the time to enjoy it, and get meta-cognitive about what it might mean to them as they are listening.

What influenced you all when recording the album.

Ryan: Mainly what my band members would bring to the table. We'd be working on something and I'd get totally inspired for an arrangement or drum pattern/vocal part. Often there was something groovy I wanted to bring to the track, bring an element of physicality to the morbidity, get some heads nodding. The album is cerebral, Ben's concepts were very inspiring for it. 

Ben: As a writer, I tend to be most influenced by history and culture. I always go into the writing process with some sort of theme in mind, and generally speaking, I try to pick a topic that is fairly definitive and clear cut with deeper meaning below the surface. In the case of “Bread Solstice”, I started with the song Nazca Lines, a story about human sacrifice in ancient Peru, and built the concept from there.

In terms of my own guitar playing, I was listening to a lot of Neurosis, Ufomammut, Swans, Yob, and Foehammer at the time I was composing the “Bread Solstice” riffs. I was shooting for heavier, more dissonant chord structures compared to earlier material, and I knew that I wanted to try and channel non-metal influences on some of the more trippy parts. I’m particularly proud of the last riff in Hymn to Nothing, which is by far one of my favorite musical passages on the record.

What is the overall theme of the album. As it has quite a progressive and slightly depressing feel compared to your previous EP's.

Ryan: For me the album is a dark journey that brings images of ancient civilizations, sacrifice, absurdity and strangeness, reflecting it on the madness of today's world. Iconic sacrifices aren't literally taking place, but frenzied masses, demagogues, fear and escapism are continuous and as human and real as ever. That’s where the title ties in, that this sacrifice is taking place during a festival for the masses. Ben came to the rehearsal room with this idea of a Solstice festival and we were thinking of calling it "Blood Solstice", and in my dumb humor I said Bread Solstice, we all laughed.. then Ben and Nikhil actually made sense of it ! It's fucking awesome that the title stuck, its so weird for how morbid the album is... that's deeply satisfying. 

Ben: There are a lot of themes on the record, though I think the central idea is more of a question than anything- what happens when political leaders, who also have religious authority, rule over a populace willing to do anything in the name of their beliefs? While I do think there is a definitive answer to that question on the record, my hope is that people will find one for themselves. Ultimately, listeners will have to ask themselves whether or not being torn apart by a shaman or priest, all in the name of God, is a horror meant more for a bad B movie than real life- or whether it can in fact be the epitome of one’s life journey and the pre-eminent way of supporting your surrounding community. Should the sacrificial lamb, who willingly gave its life away be praised or condemned? And was it genuine willingness or merely subversive propaganda that led to the sacrifice?

Have you been pleased with the reviews you've received so far.

Ben: Definitely. It’s been a real treat reading all the nice things people have had to say about the record. It’s always a good feeling when someone says, “you’re good”!

Will you be touring this record heavily in the United States.

Ben: It’s very difficult to say at the moment, unfortunately, for a variety of reasons. I definitely have some plans in my head- whether they come to fruition or not is another story. As I’ve mentioned in other interviews, my day job is pretty serious to say the least, and I’ve been writing new course material for the whole year. That said, I was writing new Mountain God riffs just yesterday, so as soon as the future plan is in place, the public will know.

The album is being released on Artificial Head Records How did that come about.  Did you have any offers from other labels.

Ben: We had contact with 3-4 other labels that were interested in working with us. However, talking with Walter (owner of Artificial Head and guitarist/vocalist in Funeral Horse) sold us immediately on Artificial Head. He is a great guy, cares about vinyl, and has been unbelievably supportive from the beginning. The whole process of getting on the label started with talking to JJ Koczan of the Obelisk, who pointed us in the direction of Richard Jones from Sheltered Life PR, who then reached out to Walter on our behalf. The rest is history. We hope to keep these relationships going as long as possible. I can’t say enough good things about these three gents.

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

Ryan: Ben usually brings the first conception or riffs for a song. Than Nikhil and I add and arrange with it. Its very pleasing to have someone come with an idea and be open to having it morph and grow as much as Ben, because by the end of a mountain god song it's a complete group effort. It's a monster with complex nuance and personality, we all let each other breath and do what we do so it feels very original.

Ben: My specific role in Mountain God has always been to bring in riffs, ideas, and themes. That said, “Bread Solstice” was definitely a group effort. We structured and organized all the songs as a band, with the songs sometimes changing radically from what I had originally envisioned. Ryan and Nik are both tremendous musicians who bring a lot of experience and ability to the table, and I feel like “Bread Solstice” is a real testament to the notion of collaboration. Just as a simple example- I was having a lot of trouble with one of the verses on Hymn to Nothing, so Ryan and I discussed the theme for a bit. We wrote the verse together, and came up with the call and response effect. Similarly, Nik’s funeral doom influence had a lot to do with how and why we slowed down the beginning of Nazca Lines, which originally was more of a crunchy riff.

Are you all involved with different musical projects or is Mountain God your main band.

Ryan: I have my other sludge band Thera Roya and my rock project Crusasis

Ben: Normally not, as Mountain God and teaching take up most of my time. However, It just so happens that I started doing vocals for a black/death metal band called Eulogist. They rehearse just a few minutes from my place in the burbs. It’s been a lot of fun. I joined that project just a week ago.

What is your musical setup when performing or recording live. Is it an advanced setup or a basis setup.

Ben- I like to keep things pretty simple, especially live. I’ve run the same head throughout my entire tenure with Mountain God- a 50 watt Falcon, made by a company called Hovercraft out in Portland, Oregon. Nial is a pretty killer builder/modder, and the Falcon is one of his earlier babies.

It is a very versatile amp that can dial in everything from an Orange/Sunn type of sound to more of a Marshall JCM-800. For cabs, I have a custom made Atlas 2x12/1x15, made out in Colorado. The thing is a monster- louder than most 4x12’s I’ve heard. Guitar-wise, I have a pair of Palehorse guitars, built by a luthier named Brent Monson, who lives out in Seattle.

He has made guitars for many people within our genre, including Scott Kelly of Neurosis, Mike Scheidt of Yob, and the dudes in Wolves in the Throne Room. They are really comfortable guitars to play, and sound vicious. Both my guitars loaded with Bareknuckle Pickups- Warpigs to be exact. I try to keep effects to a minimum when gigging. I usually have a volume pedal, wah, and some delay effects, mostly for noise in between songs.

Nikhil runs a more complex setup- most of the effected parts you hear live actually come from him. He plays a Gibson Thunderbird, tuned DADG. He runs two amps- he gets his dirty sound from a Hovercraft Dwarvenaut, which is only 20 watts but loud as all hell, and his clean sound from either a Hovercraft Baltar or a Music Man. Both amps run at the same time. For cabs, he usually runs the Dwarvenaut through a 2x12 Emperor and his louder head through an Emperor 2x12/1x15. He uses an array of pedals, including delays, loopers, fuzzes, and overdrives.

In the studio, things are a little different. When we recorded “Bread Solstice”, we used a number of different head and cab combinations, as well as effects. I can remember dialing in a lot of clean tones and then driving them/distorting them with different fuzzes. Fuzzrocious made me an amazing fuzz box that we used on Hymn to Nothing and a few other tracks. I like Boss pedals a lot- they are reliable and grainy sounding in a good way.

Before you go, do you have anything to say to your fans.

Ben: All of us in Mountain God are appreciative of all the support we’ve received from listeners. On a personal level, music was a real safe haven for me growing up. It gave me a sense of belonging at a time in my life where I felt very out of place, and in some ways still do. If our music gives someone out there some solace, a little place of comfort for 40 minutes- that is a win in my book.

Well guys, thanks for doing this. All the best with the new album. Stunning record. Loud and noisy as hell.

Ben: Thanks so much, Steve, for all the kind words and thoughtful questions. Huge thanks to Outlaws of the Sun!

Words by Steve Howe, Ben Ianuzzi and Ryan Smith.

Thanks to Richard at Sheltered Life PR for arranging the interivew. Thanks to Ben and Ryan from Mountain God for doing this interview.

You can buy Bread Solstice from Artificial Head Records here.