Sunday 18 June 2023

An Interview With Doom/Grunge/Stoner Metallers LAMASSU

Aussie Doom/Grunge/Stoner Rockers LAMASSU released their acclaimed debut album Into The Empty back in 2019 which struck a chord with the Doom/Stoner Underground scene. Their blend of modern Doomed Out and Psychedelic Stoner Grooves with a subtle flow of 1990's Grunge made for an aggressive sound that made them a band to look out for.

Fast forward to 2023 and LAMASSU are back with their even better second album Made Of Dust which is a more complex sounding record bringing Progressive themes and bleak lyrical imagery to the modern Doom/Stoner Metal sound. 

I caught up with LAMASSU to discuss the making of the album. formation of the band and future plans for this wonderfully in-depth interview. 

See what LAMASSU have to say.

Hi there. Thanks for doing the interview. How are things with you today?

(Chris) - Hi Steve, things are good, busy in the lead up to the release of our new album, but good.

For folks not in the know, can you give a brief history of how the band came together and where it is today.

(Chris) - We were all playing in other bands around Melbourne. At various points we had all played shows together in other bands and were fans of each other. One night Matt suggested that he and I should jam sometime and about 6 months later that happened. He and I met at a studio, set up our amps and jammed on some ideas. It was apparent very quickly that there was a great musical connection between the two of us. We later jammed again and agreed we should get a bassist and drummer involved and that’s where Ant, our original bassist (Boracherro) and Nick (Motherslug) agreed to jam. Things just jelled and took off from there. In the lead up to recording our debut album, ‘Into the Empty’, Ant told us he was moving to Europe so we tracked the album, he left the country a few days later and then we set out to find another bassist.

We tried out a few people who didn’t really fit and ended up landing on our current bassist Al, who I played with in Field prior to Lamassu. Al brings a heaviness and quirky edge to the bass which is perfect for us. He’s also hilarious and brings a great energy to a room and a stage.

(Matt) - I remember seeing Chris perform with his previous band ‘Field’ for the first time and being blown away by his vocals and I really dug the riffs he was slinging in that band. I remember thinking to myself that I’d love to have him sing over some material I write sometime. Further down the track our bands would end up playing on the same bills several times. 

I fronted the band ‘Olmeg’ at the time on Bass & vocals, we were also tour buddy bands a couple of times. I wanted to start a new project with me back playing guitar which is my first instrument, I had started another band a year beforehand called Vimanablaster but unfortunately the drummer had to move interstate just as we were starting to get some momentum. One day I decided to write some music for a song with Chris’s vocals in mind and I shared it with him with a possible collaboration in mind. 

I was thinking it would just be one or maybe two tracks that we might end up doing together, but I wasn’t sure if he would be interested or like the demo I sent him. It turns out he loved it and the track ended up becoming the song ‘Chokehold Companion’ on our first LP, a track that really embodies the foundation of Lamassu. We jammed on the track and a couple of other ideas I had in my back pocket (in case he was keen) and we fairly quickly decided that this deserved to become a full band. From there I approached Ant who was the bass player from the band ‘Borrachero’ who were playing around Melbourne a fair bit at the time and he seemed keen, our bands had played quite a few shows together in the past and he is a really creative player. 

Next we needed a drummer, I was at a ‘Motherslug’ show one night and I remember being really impressed with Nick’s energy on stage and his playing really embodied the ideas I had in my head at the time, so I thought what the heck I’ll ask him if he might be interested in playing some drums for us, he agreed and we all got together and jammed on a few of the song ideas I’d shared and the rest was history. Just after we recorded our debut album Ant would leave us to move to Europe where his partner is from and Al from ‘Field’ joined us on bass to complete the lineup we have today.

How would you describe your own sound for this album. As it's quite different compared to your debut release.

(Chris) - We didn’t really set out to change our sound, I believe it has naturally progressed over time. It's probably important to note that we were part way through writing this album when COVID hit. We live in Melbourne, the worlds most heavily locked down city, so we didn’t get in a room together for a long time. We had Zoom drinks on weekends, discussed song ideas and sent rough demos throughout that time but it wasn’t until lockdowns ended that we really started to hone these tracks. I guess that all had an impact on the overall sound. In addition, our writing has developed considerably in my opinion. We approached these songs not thinking that we need to sound any particular way, we never thought, “oh is this Doom enough?!” or anything like that, we just developed each song as we felt it needed to be and even let our non-heavy musical influences playout.

(Matt) - A lot of the musical ideas that emerged for this album were just what came out at the time, from my personal point of view I feel like you could kind of describe it a bit like a radio tuning into the radio waves floating around at the time in terms of inspiration for ideas. Sometimes I plug in my guitar and I just seem to pick up on the ‘creative radio waves’ floating around in the ether and it seems to somehow channel through me to become some kind of musical composition, sometimes that is just a couple of riffs that work really well together that need to be developed further and sometimes a complete song comes out all in one go, I’m not sure how it really happens or when it will happen next, 

I just know when it is happening I have to hit record on my phone to capture it otherwise it is gone the next day! Whatever it is, I am very grateful for it. I usually bring my song ideas to the band in a simple form, usually just as a guitar part to leave room for everyone else to provide their personal musical input and voice to the songs. The songs on Made Of Dust were written in the lead up to and with the backdrop of the COVID lockdowns, in which were were very heavily hit with in our home city of Melbourne, I think we were on record for the longest lockdown in the entire world, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that somehow flowed through to the music too.

(Al) - I joined the band just after the release of the debut album, only playing it live with the band. I had played with Chris for a few years in our previous band ‘Field’.

My sound and playing style is quite different from Ant, I did feel some pressure as he is such an amazing musician. I tried to take some inspiration from his musicality and of course some solid input from Matt ‘given his musical genius’.

The way the “second group” of songs came together made so much more sense to me of course as I was involved in the writing process and we had been playing together for over a year at that point. For the Made of Dust, the tracks felt like I had to use a darker / dirtier tone than previously. Listening back to the songs that are on the album, I’m really proud of what I hear and how we worked together to craft the music. I’m genuinely excited at what we’ve been able to put together as a unit.

Why did you call yourselves Lamassu.

(Chris) - Finding a band name is hard. Any time you land on something you like you can almost guarantee it's already been taken. Early on Matt and I were sending lists to one another daily, I think it was a two or three month process. Matt came across Lamassu. A Lamassu is an ancient Mesopotamian protection deity, the human-headed, winged lion. We loved the imagery associated with it and how the word itself looks. We also googled it and no one else had used it as a band name so, here we are!

You're about to release your new album Made Of Dust. What can people expect to hear from this album?

(Chris) - Made of Dust is an album about loss, grief, personal demons, greed and the ever ticking hands of time. Musically it’s heavy, melodic and complex.

(Matt) - I’ll let Chris speak to the lyrical themes of the album as he wrote the majority of the lyrics with exception to the track ‘Something Else’, which was a song about UFO’s. I wrote and demoed this for a previous musical project, but it never really fit. I played it to the guys and they really liked it and suggested we rework it in Lamassu tuning as it was originally written in drop D. We came up with a new arrangement for it and I added in some other instrumentation to it just to glue it all together and it really sits well with the rest of the album.

The rest of the album is a broad mix of musical influences that somehow are still really cohesively joined together and are rooted in a heavy, melodic brooding vibe with hints of triumph and euphoria shining through at times. It has quite an epic feel to it overall and all the tracks sit really well together as a total album. It’s a real journey album and that’s why I think the various musical influences and moods that shine through on each track flow together really well. At its core it’s low and slow and heavy as all get out at times, but it is still really musical and a sonically diverse album that I’m really proud of what and how we’ve put it together.

What bands and artists influenced you when recording this album?

(Chris) - There are the obvious musical influences of Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, STP, Led Zep, Sabbath that I think people possibly expect from us. Elephant Tree, Pallbearer, YOB are bands we are huge fans of and take inspiration from, but we also allowed our non-heavy influences to come through as well, for example Radiohead and Jeff Buckley.

(Matt) - I listen to a wide variety of musical genres, so I draw influences from many places in and outside the heavy genres and bands, we all love all the classic rock, heavy, doom, stoner & metal bands, from Zeppelin, Sabbath, Deep Purple to Kyuss, QOTSA, Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, Colour Haze, Pallbearer, YOB, Torche, The Mark Of Cain through to bands like Spotlights, The Machine, Deftones, we all love Soundgraden and AIC, 

I also love bands like Swervedriver & My Bloody Valentine from the shoegaze genre through to more folk type artists like Nick Drake & Neil Young. I grew up learning guitar wanting to play 70’s Jazz Fusion like John McLaughlin in Mahavishnu Orchestra which is some pretty wild stuff especially for the time and I think a lot of that still flows through in some way in the musical ideas I presented to the band for Made Of Dust.

(Al) - I think it’s actually really hard to put your finger on all of bands that we’ve been influenced by as we all have such diverse tastes for our enjoyment of music, even while recording Made of Dust, no doubt we were all listening to different bands at the time. 

I have always listened to a wide range of different music, my formative years when I started playing I was influenced by the 90’s grunge bands : Nirvana / Faith No More / Tool / Korn and so many more, as my tastes changed and started playing in heavier bands, 

I opened Pandora's box and listened to more Prog / Doom / Stoner and Heavy Rock, I rediscovered other acts like Incubus / Deftones / Future of The Left / Rush / Muse too many to mention. I can say that I love the tones that Billy Gould pulls on the Faith No More records and of course Justin Chancellor from Tool. 

Was this a hard album to write and record for?

(Chris) - For me, musically it came together with relative ease. We tend to structure and fine tune our songs in a rehearsal room together and it just seems to flow. I did struggle with the lyrics and vocal melodies for some of the tracks, for example Washed Away and Tin Man were really difficult to start due to the odd nature of the riffs and progressions, but once I got pen to paper and worked through some melody ideas with Matt, they then came together quickly after that.

What is the creative process or setup within the band? Do you all write the music together or do certain people within the band do that?

(Chris) - Usually Matt or myself will send an idea through to the band and if everyone is into it we’ll jam on it at rehearsal and it develops from there. The initial riff/s and basic structure come from one person, often Matt, and then everyone adds their parts. For example on Made of Dust, 6 tracks came from Matt, 3 from me and one (The Fog) was a collaborative effort on a weekend writing trip. The lyrics are all me with the exception of ‘Something Else’ which is an excellent track Matt wrote years ago.

(Matt) - Myself or Chris will usually send ideas we have come up with to the band and if everyone is keen on them we will usually jam the ideas at rehearsal and develop them into songs. I usually present just guitar parts to the band even if that is already in a rough song arrangement, with the idea of leaving all the other instrumentation up to the other band members to come up with so that they can impart their own flavour and voice to a song, quite often we’ll also come up with new arrangement ideas on the back of jamming song ideas as a band.

How did you get involved with music? Was it a particular album, group or artist that made you want to write and play your own music?

(Chris) - I remember being very young and seeing the Van Halen video clip for Panama and I instantly wanted to be in a band from that point onwards. I loved music as a kid, the pre-internet times of discovering music were pretty amazing. Sepultura, Pantera, Metallica, Soundgarden, AIC, STP and Hendrix were my go to.

(Matt) I think my earliest memory of being inspired to play guitar was probably listening to Hendrix when I was a little kid, it was the ‘Are You Experienced’ album. I have always been drawn to more psychedelic/sonic/atmospheric type musical elements in music along with great riffs and I remember as a little kid playing the track ‘I don’t live today’ off that album on my older sister’s turntable and being blown away by the trippy section at the end of that song, I used to play with the tempo control on the turntable to make sound even weirder! I think that album really opened my mind up to musical possibilities as I had grown up in a very classical music orientated family.

(Al) - I started out when I was around 15 years old and the classic story of a few friends in high school that wanted to start a band, and guess what? they already had the guitarist and the drummer, so naturally someone needed to get on the Bass. 

When I was younger my Nan would play older classic songs on her hammond organ, our family didn’t have any instruments laying around the house, but I remember my Dad would always play his old records and tapes from the 60’s and 70’s and I would sit in the lounge on the weekend and just love to listen to whatever was on. I suppose that’s where my enjoyment of music came from. 

My first proper ‘gig’ that I went to with friends was ‘The Offspring’ back in 1997. I left that gig and said to myself I would love one day to be able to get up and stage and play for people and enjoy it. I could see that they were all having an absolute blast on stage. 

Your debut album had a great response from the Underground scene. Did this surprise you the way folks have taken to your music in general.

(Matt) - We worked really hard to create our first album ‘Into The Empty’. We were all playing in other bands at the time and it was mostly tracked as a live performance. I remember we rehearsed several times a week in the lead up to the recording to ensure we had the songs down and that we would perform it well. To be honest, with any release I have been involved with, the primary reason for doing it is to create music, I get a massive kick out of creating songs and seeing them through to the point where they become part of an album, complete with it’s artwork and packaging it becomes a thing in the world you can point to to say “I was part of creating this”. 

I guess it’s partly born out of a feeling that being a musician is perhaps not seen by a portion of society as being a legitimate pursuit, especially when you are creating original music! Of course we always hope that someone in the world might like what we create as if we think it is good enough to record hopefully someone will hear the intent behind it and get something out of listening to it, if someone really likes it then that is always amazing and unexpected, but for me, if no one really likes it that’s also okay, as I have had the enjoyment and fulfilment in creating it with my fellow musicians and can revisit the experience in listening to the album anytime.

Looking back at your debut album. Would you change anything about it.

(Chris) - Yes and no. There are performance things that I would do differently now, but I also think it’s a great album as it is. Collectively our song writing and playing has developed significantly since we did the first album so I guess I look at the songs differently now and would approach some of them from a different angle now compared to how we did then. But overall, no, I wouldn’t change it.

(Matt) - I think with any album I’ve been involved in recording there’s usually always one or two little things here or there where I think; “I wish I had re-done that part” or something like that, but another part of me is like, it is human beings making music, not a bunch of programmed robots, so I kind of like subtle nuances and tiny errors here and there, as it is a reminder that it was made by people. 

I think the overall vibe and performance we captured was awesome and outweighs anything subtle I might have wanted to change about it retrospectively. It also provides motivation to want to create another album to do it all again but better! Ha ha. 

I think with each progressive album I have tried to push myself more towards ensuring I was absolutely happy with the performances before signing off on them, but I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% happy with them and I think that is an innate thing for most recording musicians.

What formats is the new album Made Of Dust being released upon.

(Chris) - The album is long, an hour and 7 or 8 minutes so we couldn’t fit it on a single vinyl album, so we’re releasing it on a double LP gatefold, CD, digital download and all streaming services.

I see Lulu Mason designed the artwork for this release as they did for your debut album. It's a great cover for Made Of Dust. Very understated. How did you hook up with Lulu.

(Chris) - That’s an interesting choice of words, “hook up with” because Lulu is my partner. She’s an incredibly talented Graphic Designer/Creative Director who we’re lucky to have do our art and design work.

Editor's Note. Apologies to Chris and Lulu. I didn't know that Lulu is Chris's partner. 

Did you let Lulu have free reign when designing the artwork or did you provide some of your own ideas for the album cover.

(Chris) - Mostly…We give Lulu a brief of how we envisage a scene or image that would suit how we see the album. Lulu listens to the album a lot, I give her the lyrics, discuss the meanings behind them etc, then she closes the door and doesn’t let me see anything until it's a fairly cohesive piece. From there we (the band) provide feedback, suggestions etc, Lulu disregards them all and we end up with the cover - LOL

What is the current state of the local Metal scene with Melbourne. Do you get the chance to perform gigs on a regular basis and do you have a local scene that you're actively involved with?

(Chris) - Melbourne has a great live music scene and the heavy scene within that is thriving. There is a laundry list of amazing bands active in Melbourne right now whom we regularly play and tour with. We're very lucky to have a dozen or so great live venues, dive bars and band rooms that support the heavy scene. It’s not just Melbourne, there are great bands everywhere, Adelaide, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

Will you be performing any gigs to promote this album locally or further afield!

(Chris) - We are in the early stages of planning a tour through the eastern states of Australia later this year. It will likely be around 12 - 14 dates in total covering all of the major cities and some regional centres.

If you're planning a tour what can people expect from the LIVE version of LAMASSU.

(Chris) - Live, we are loud, intense and energetic.

(Matt) - We plan on presenting most of the material on ‘Made Of Dust’ and playing some tunes from ‘Into The Empty’ along with our recent single ‘Know Your Gods’. We may even slip in the cover of Soundgarden’s ‘Searching With My Good Eye Closed’ that we did for the Magnetic Eye Records’ ‘Best Of Soungarden Redux’ being released in July.

Before you go, do you have any words of wisdom for your new and potential fans out there?

(Chris) - We are incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved with this album and hope it connects with someone out there who enjoys it for times to come. Album 3 up next!

(Matt) - ‘Made of Dust’ has been a long time in the making for us due to many delays caused by things that were largely out of our control. I think the only words of wisdom I can suggest is to keep at your goals no matter what challenges or roadblocks are placed in front of you. If you have a vision to achieve something, keep working away at it bit by bit and it will eventually materialise.

(Al) - We hope you enjoy the album as much as we enjoyed creating it. If you do please listen to it and share with friends. At the end of the day we hope the music and lyrics connect with you and it takes you somewhere.

Words by Steve Howe and LAMASSU

Thanks to LAMASSU for doing this interview.

Made Of Dust will be available to buy on Digital Download from June 21st 2023 and CD/Vinyl from July 31st July 2023.


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