Interview with Cormorant
Interview conducted by Nahsil
Date online: February 11, 2010
First off — Milton was a bad motherfucker, kudos on the band name. For the unliterary, would you mind sharing what Cormorant means and its significance to the band? And for that matter, the choice of Metazoa as the album's title?
Well, I joined the band after The Last Tree EP came out, so the name was already established, but I know the guys initially chose "Cormorant" based on the actual animal. Living in Northern California, we're all used to nature and animals coinciding with our regular suburban life, so I think they wanted to choose a name to reflect that connection. And when you delve deeper into its meaning in literature, how it's used as a symbol for gluttony and deception and greed, it starts to work on deeper levels...which is always good. Metazoa was one of many, many names in a massive list we compiled over a couple weeks. We were trying to come up with a good name for the album, and it was the first one all four of us agreed on. Plus its meaning ties in with our lyrical and aesthetic themes of animals/nature, so we went with it.
I noticed on Cormorant's Myspace page that you guys have a ridiculous amount of influences, ranging from badass metal acts like Apotheosis, Primordial, and Solefald to stuff that doesn't exactly fit into the metal mold...Zappa, Portishead, even the great neo-folk band Of the Wand and the Moon. How has your taste in music affected Cormorant as a music-creating entity?
The music we write is completely collaborative, and the four of us listen to widely diverse music, so that range of influences inevitably comes out in our songs. That's a great aspect of writing in the metal genre, too, because experimentation and progression are usually encouraged. But yeah, going from Tom Waits to Enslaved to Blue Cheer to Joanna Newsom in your regular rotation is gonna seriously fuck up your metal. But we like it that way. Nick is an old-time country and bluegrass freak, Brennan composes hip-hop beats...we're huge music nerds in general.
Our mutual friend Dan thinks Metazoa is a more progressive effort than your EP, would you agree? And if so, was there a conscious choice to make your music less straightforward? For the record, I agree with Dan, and I think it was a good move.
Absolutely. Metazoa is a reflection of our progression as musicians and the ideas we want to convey. Everything on The Last Tree was written as a trio, so when I joined the band and we started writing music together, we worked really hard on string harmonies, arrangement, composition—basically an overall progression of Cormorant's sound. But I think the guys were already moving toward this approach before I joined. "Ballad of the Beast," the last song on the EP, is basically a preview of what we ended up doing on Metazoa. Lots of ideas and experimentation, but balanced with a songwriting approach that's more akin to folk music or progressive rock.
Some of the vocals in "Hole in the Sea" — Tom Waits-influenced, right?
Those vocals are done by Aaron Gregory, frontman of Giant Squid, one of our favorite bands and good friends of ours. I've been a Giant Squid nerd since Metridium Field came out and blew my mind, so after we got to know them through the San Francisco scene, it seemed like a no-brainer to get Aaron to sing on a track. He has a really distinct voice, and we knew "Hole in the Sea" was going to be a pretty experimental song, so that seemed like the best fit for him. The lyrics are about, among other things, an encounter with a giant cosmic whale, so it seemed apropos to have Aaron use his drunken pirate, Tom Waits-style vocals for the majority of the song. And Tom Waits is one of my favorite musicians of all time, so it was pretty exciting from the get go.
As I was writing this, a car passed by my house and I heard some really loud thumping hip-hop bass. What's your take on music listening volume? Personally, I play stuff at a pretty reasonable decibel level. Manowar are great at 8 instead of 11, if you know what I mean; I really do value my hearing. Does that make me less metal? How about earplugs at concerts/when playing live?
Having functioning ears doesn't make you less metal, listening to Lady Gaga makes you less metal. But seriously, I've been playing in bands for 10 years, and I wish I would have worn earplugs from the very beginning, because I can tell I'm going to have a lot of hearing problems in my old age. Brennan and Nick both wear custom fitting earplugs when they play, to filter out high frequencies that wreak havoc on the eardrums. But I think it's too late for me, so I just deal with the tinnitus and occasional discomfort. Sometimes I'll wear earplugs when I go see a show, but a lot of times I feel like it muffles and filters out what I really want to hear, you know? That amp growl, those pounding cymbals...sometimes I'd rather take the next-day-ringing.
I really like the lyrics on Metazoa and sometimes wish metal bands would put more thought into that aspect of the music. You guys do much reading? Got a book or two you'd recommend?
Arthur puts a lot of work into the lyrics, drawing from personal experiences as well as art and literature, so it's nice when people recognize their merit. Since we're playing an extreme form of music with lots of growling, indecipherable vocals, people are sometimes surprised when they read the lyrics and find out they're actually coherent! Like, "Oh, I thought you were just screaming about Satan this whole time." Arthur handles the lyrics, but I have a B.A. in English, so I've read a book or two in my lifetime. For recommendations, I'd say Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby and American Psycho by Bret Ellis should be on everybody's shelf. And Bukowski. Lots of Bukowski.
I thought only Thrash Metal came out of the Bay Area! - what's the deal?! Are there any fellow Bay Area bands you'd like to pimp?
Ah, another '80s misconception! That's like, "Hey, I thought only brutal death metal came out of Florida...WTF!" The Bay Area is an insanely diverse place, with lots of different people and mindsets, so when you start creating music in that kind of environment, some weird shit is bound to happen. Plus, the live scene in San Francisco and the East Bay is incredible—people out here love going to shows, and there's no shortage of awesome bands, so it's a perfect environment for a music lover. As for Bay Area bands, we're in great company: Giant Squid, Grayceon, Hammers of Misfortune, Ludicra, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Saviours, Worm Ouroboros, Amber Asylum, Saros, Walken, Slough Feg, Judgement Day, Asunder, High on Fire, Neurosis, Exodus, Testament...it's pretty ridiculous when you stop and think about it.
You guys ever hang out with Mike Scalzi and the rest of Slough Feg? I saw them in front of like 15 people in Dallas, but they still put on a cool show. I've heard you're fans.
We played a show with Slough Feg in Petaluma and got to hang out with all those guys. Scalzi is a really nice dude—it was a trip talking with him about teaching philosophy to a bunch of dead-eyed college students. And we're absolutely Slough Feg fans; you can hear the influence on songs like "Uneasy Lies the Head" and "Blood on the Cornfields,' especially the way they use guitar harmonies and bouncy energy. Down Among the Deadmen is a great album.
How does Cormorant write music? Is it a collaborative effort or is there a primary songwriter?
It's absolutely collaborative. We'll all come in to practice with separate ideas, riffs, vocal patterns and whatnot, but at the end of the day, it's the four of us in the practice studio, banging out ideas and trying to make songs. The one exception so far is the last song on Metazoa, "Voices of the Mountain," which is a collaboration between me and Nick, but that's an instrumental song for acoustic guitars. Our regular songs are reflections of four different writing and playing styles, which lends to the progressive nature of our musical output.
You guys describe yourselves as "Tiberian Ass Bastard Folk." Would you expand on that?
I think someone on the Interwebz came up with that one. Our sound is sort of hard to classify: do you call us "blackened death folk" or "progressive black metal" or what? So to bypass all the bickering, we jokingly align ourselves with a made-up genre. And to clarify, there should be a hyphen in there: Tiberian-Ass Bastard Folk. It's not anything serious, we're not going to try to start a revolution or something pretentious like that...it's just a funny way to describe something that a lot of people have a hard time describing. I think genre specification is stupid to begin with, though. It's all rock and roll when you get down to it.
Metal-Archives says Cormorant started out playing Melodic Death Metal and now play Melodic Black Metal. Would you say this is accurate? How would you describe yourselves musically (besides Tiberian-Ass Bastard Folk)?
I think we've moved into a sound rooted in black metal and progressive rock, especially in our new songs. We're writing some stuff for the follow-up to Metazoa, and that seems to be the way things are going. But it's never been a conscious thing, where we all sit down and say, "OK, now this next album is gonna be black metal and the one after will be post rock." It just comes out organically when we jam together and come up with riffs and ideas. Personally, I'd like to follow the example of Enslaved, who've always pushed the limits of their sound with each successive album but still have a foundation in those black metal roots. But that's another thing that's fun and exciting about playing in Cormorant—we don't know where our songs are going to go until we start thinking about them and playing them.
You don't have to answer this question if you don't want, but if you were a reviewer, how would you rate "Metazoa?" The Metal Crypt uses a 0-5 scale with .25 increments, if you want to do it that way.
I'm so close to that record, it would be impossible to give an objective opinion. All I can say is, it was our first big production, we got to work with Billy Anderson, a great producer who's a legend in the metal world, and we pulled it off without selling our souls to a label for a shitty deal. Even if some people don't dig the music, I consider Metazoa to be a huge accomplishment in my life.
I heard a lot of fresh and original sounding releases in 2009, what was your impression of the year's overall contribution to metal?
2009 had a lot of great releases. I usually compile a "Top 20" albums list each year to post online, but this year I skipped it because there were just so many awesome albums to choose from. I really liked Giant Squid's The Ichthyologist, Katatonia's Night is the New Day, Church of Misery's Houses of the Unholy, Augury's Fragmentary Evidence and Cobalt's Gin, just to name a few.
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