an interview with Agalloch
by Stefan Raduta
Agalloch in Brasov
As you may be aware, Stefan Raduta hit the road with the great Agalloch, logging miles with the band as they played Romania in late March including with Alcest at their first ever live performance. While out on the road, Stefan sat down with vocalist/guitarist John Haughm for an interview –BBG
On March 20th and 21st, Portland’s Agalloch flew all the way to Romania to play two very special, exclusive concerts. Last summer when the promoter (who happens to be one of my best friends) told me of his discussions with John Haughm, I immediately started making plans for this trip, feeling that it would turn into a really precious memory. Agalloch is one of those few bands that go really deep with me, at times I think what they create becomes a genuine elixir of emotion; a personal healing experience.
It turned out to be a killer adventure, one that acted as primer for an open discussion with John Haughm, a musician who I feel is surrounded by a certain aura of misconception. Let’s face it, Agalloch has achieved a cult status in Europe maybe too rapidly, and a lot of people/bands here in the states have become a little envious with that. Because they’re very selective with the shows they do, many have attached them to a self-proclaimed “elitist’ image – nothing could be more absurd and further from the truth. Then, John himself refuses to do interviews left and right, and when he does, he really speaks his mind which again bothers certain people. Haughm left me with the impression of a very honest, forward-thinking person, pursuing a goal in the face of any adversity… either coming from the music industry or listeners. My discussion with John Haughm is below…
Agalloch in Bucharest
To those discovering you just now, please introduce the band. You guys also live quite far from one another. How do you manage?
Well the band is made of myself John Haughm (guitars and vocals), Don Anderson (guitar and piano) Jason Walton (bass and soundscapes) and Aesop from Ludicra of drums. Yeah I live in Portland, Aesop lives in San Francisco, Don lives in Seattle, Jason lives in Milwaukee but working on moving back to Portland…I would say rehearsing is the hard part because we all have personal lives, school, jobs, etc, but keeping up with what we write is quite easy due to technology.
How does it feel to be in Romania, for the very first time?
Interesting…it’s a very beautiful country but also kind of depressive…but I like that aspect.
How does Agalloch end up playing two exclusive shows in Romania? It’s such a remote location from where you guys live…
Back in 2003 Doru from Kogaionon interviewed me for his 8th issue and we sort of kept in touch since then, we became friends. I also ended up doing the design and layout for his most recent issue…He came and saw us in play Berlin last year, and by that time he had already started these special evening events. He invited us, offered us flights and accommodations, and of course we agreed. So far it’s been one of the most incredible experiences for us. Last night for example (March 20th) we played at the Reduta Cultural Center, which is a really beautiful classical theater…the first metal show there ever. To play that place and have it be like a theatre piece is really awesome.
You never played in a place like that before?
We played in theatres, but they were more like music venues turned into theatres…we did that in Holland and Milwaukee, we never played in a fancy place like this, a real genuine classical theater.
When Doru told me he was going to bring you guys here, he told me that you didn’t ask for any money, you’re doing these shows completely free…this is really based on a genuine friendship, it’s quite rare in these days..
Yeah, I mean sometimes you do things just for the love of art. It was enough for us that he offered us flights and accommodation. We thought of it as a great experience, something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives, and it was enough. There’s a lot of bands out there that only care about money…we’re not one of them.
Where does Agalloch fit in the music scene in the US and in general? There’s a lot of controversy around this name. A lot of mysticism, personal opinions…sometimes you’ve made statements that bothered some people…and now you do something out of the ordinary like this, it’s definitely interesting…
We’re a band that holds integrity at a high level. It seems like a lot of people or bands don’t like that. We’re not doing what we do just for the sake of being different. We care about art and honesty. We believe in having a spectacular experience rather than touring constantly and making a lot of money…we’re not interested in hype, or all this rock-star bullshit. We’re fine if we’re at an underground cult base forever…I mean let’s face it. The Ramones never made it, they were never rock stars. But they sold out every venue they played, they had a rabid cult fallowing for years. To us that’s far more interesting than having a gradual level of success to finally reaching stardom. We’ve been doing this for fifteen years and we still feel very fresh because of this, we don’t feel burned out. We’ve built this cult fan base and we don’t want to throw this away, it would go against our belief in artistic integrity.
Are you proud of where Agalloch is today? As a name, as what it means to people? Are you satisfied with what you’ve done so far?
Yes absolutely. There are things that I would change of course, but I am really humbled by our fan’s loyalty. When I started Agalloch I just wanted to create something personal, and maybe some day we could play in some interesting venues and see some great places. So far we’ve accomplished all of that. I mean, I’ve always dreamed of putting out a wooden box set. We’ve put out two, we’ll do another one. It’s just because we’ve been very persistence. We’re not like a band that wants to rush towards success and burn bridges on their way. We don’t believe in hyping our craft to the point where people are sick of us in a month. We prefer to let the music do the talking and let our actions show who we are.
Agalloch in 2008
What caused your departure from The End Records? Without getting too much into detail, maybe you can explain this move to the fans?
When we signed with them, The End was brand new…they barely started a year earlier. They were still in Pasadena, Ca. And I thought here’s a label that’s brand new, with some really interesting ideas that they can possibly turn into something really great…and I’m thinking something like Prophecy, Misanthropy…something amazing like that. But then, as soon as we signed to them, I’ve started to see that the real agenda they had was not at all in line with what I hoped they would provide. So as time went on, Andreas and I really butted heads more and more…and finally when we put out our third record, which was a complete nightmare from the beginning to the end…a real disaster, on every possible front…
Really? What happened?
It would take me three days to talk about it (laughs). But the point is that through that disaster, The End Records were not very supportive, blaming every fault on us, finding excuses, and basically there was a point where I decided I would never work with them again, and luckily our contract was finished by then. We left the label because of those experiences and also because we feel the label is heading in a direction we really don’t want to be associated with. We don’t want to be a band that’s pulled into this hipster kind of scene that they’ve been targeting. Look, I don’t hate Andreas at all. They’ve definitely helped us in the beginning with early tours and such…we just have a different vision. And I think we’ve also helped them as well, we kind of helped putting them on the map.
Agalloch‘s 2006 LP Ashes Against The Grain
So the question that’s on everyone’s lips…When and where will the new Agalloch be released? I hear the words Profound Lore more and more…
I’m not going to comment on that. We’re going to record the album hopefully this summer, on our own, and then we’ll license it.
You think that’s the only option for a band today, to record an album its own and just license it? You do have full control over your work that way…
Yes definitely. It is our art after all. It also means that we can make a little more money that we can put back in the band, it means a bigger budget for the next recording, it means that if we have to pay our way for a tour we can do that too, we can have our own merchandise. It means more freedom. Going independent is the best thing to do. But unfortunately, as a young band you can’t start there. You have to get help in the beginning, make a name, and then do this move. And that’s the one great thing that we’ve taken from The End Records, the lesson we learned as a band. They’ve helped us get to that point, they put our name out and we’ll give them credit for that.
Every Agalloch album is very different from the previous. What’s the next album going to sound like?
Imagine elements from all our previous albums and EPs, put them together and that’s kind of what it’s like. (laughs) When we make a new record we try to wipe off the past and we focus only on the present. We’re not going like oh, we did this on this album, or we did that on this other album, or worry about what people might expect. To us, each album must be an entity of its own, it has to have its own life, personality, etc. The next one will be different but it’s going to be Agalloch for sure. The fact that the core members of the band have been playing together for 13-14 years, we’ve sort of maintained this sort of identity of sound….it doesn’t matter if we write a song that’s neo-folk style or black metal style, there’s an essence there that will undeniably be Agalloch.
How important is the live experience for Agalloch? This could very easily be a studio project, yet you choose to play live here and there, sometimes…
Playing live gives us an opportunity to travel and see the world…we also experience our songs in different mediums. Our songs tend to change when plaid live, they evolve, they sort of have a life of their own, like moving beings that progress. Some people like it, others don’t, but it’s just the way it is.
Give me some name of American bands you admire…I know you like Fauna.
Yes I’m definitely very much into Fauna, that’s the true Cascadian black metal to me. Their live shows are really theatrical, amazing stuff. I like Velnias, Asunder, Ludicra, Amber Asylum, Oakhelm, L’Acephale, Krallice is really phenomenal, one of my favorite bands…too many to mention, really.
We were talking yesterday about how much we both love Paysage d’hiver…what other names outside the US would you like to perform live, if it would be possible?
Oh…Solstafir, Lunar Aurora, Master’s Hammer – I wish they played live now that they’re back together – Root, Blut Aus Nord…There’s a lot of bands that are not metal, that I’d love to play live with…Rome, Spiritual Front. I think Agalloch has enough class to play live just as easily with Rome or Lunar Aurora. We have quite a spectrum of bands we like, we’re not limited to a genre. Whenever we play a show that we control, we try to pick bands that are completely different from us. We played shows that are experimental, post-rocky, and that makes much more of an interesting lineup. I believe in this kind of diversity, for people to discover something completely new.
Your American fans feel a little deprived, you don’t play live a whole lot in the US.
We’re not doing this on purpose. We want to play live back home, but we rarely get any good offers. For every one offer in the US, we get 20 from Europe, and they’re all great. We definitely want to play both coasts again, but we want to play under decent conditions. You go play in LA, the clubs treat you like shit, so then fuck it, we’re not gonna play LA, we’ll go play New York instead, or Seattle. We don’t have the time and the energy to play 20 shows and having 15 of them suck. We want to put together a tour in nice venues with great support bands, and create a memorable experience. We want people to look at the bill and know that it will be worth it. Like Alcest and Agalloch, it’s perfect! We’d love to tour with them in the US. It’s hard for us because we can’t be a touring band, we can’t be away for more than 10 days. And that’s only in certain times of the year. And if it’s between that and flying to Romania to do two amazing shows, we’ll take the latter, because this is a much more amazing cultural experience, we’re gaining so much more.
How about the fact that people from 15 countries, including a few from the US came to see this? It’s not even a festival, it’s just two bands…
That’s outstanding. And it’s great because people are not just seeing two bands, but they’re emerging in a completely different culture, discovering something new, it’s an experience that lasts forever.
Agalloch for honoring the invitation
Doru and Andreea, the promoters (Kogaionon and Donisart)