an interview w/ Aesop Dekker of Agalloch & Ludicra
by Kim Kelly
Ludicra at Scion Rock Fest (more here)
The metal world is rife with curious individuals and iconoclasts, demonic personas and mysterious, elemental figures. We're none of us "normal," and neither are our heroes. One of the most interesting (and hard-working) figures in modern American extreme metal is one Aesop Dekker. As an artist, Dekker makes his mark on this ever-evolving world as the drummer and driving force behind such fascinating, innovative, and often life-affirming projects as Agalloch, Ludicra, and as of recently, Worm Ouroboros. As a fan, his rabid and bottomless enthusiasm for all things heavy, dark, obscure, and honest is laid bare in his popular blog Cosmic Hearse and in various other behind-the-scenes efforts.
The man himself recently granted an e-interview to BrooklynVegan's erstwhile pillar of ravishing grimness, Kim Kelly, to discuss his thoughts on USBM, the lure of San Francisco, and Agalloch's upcoming 4th album (and upcoming live shows!). Read the whole thing, below...
Your blog Cosmic Hearse is an absolute treasure trove of obscure and not-so-obscure music, metal and otherwise. You've clearly got an incredibly extensive knowledge of
music, and are constantly posting about new bands and records that fly below most peoples' radars. Where do you find out about new bands?
Aesop: Discovering obscure music has been a passion of mine since I was about 13. It is almost to a fault. I can't stand the thought that there may be some amazing recording that I have yet to hear. Anytime I travel I come home with a stack of stuff to listen to. Now with the notoriety of Cosmic Hearse people send me stuff or hand me weird releases at shows. Also I ran a short-lived "cassette only" label in 2004 that put me in contact with a myriad of interesting Black Metal bands and labels. I also spend a ridiculous amount of time perusing other blogs and combing bins at record stores.
Ludicra at Santos (more here)
What does it take for a new band or album to really catch your interest these days?
It's hard to pinpoint what makes a band click with me. A band doesn't have to be terribly original, talented, or well produced. I think most important is atmosphere, songs...There really isn't a whole lot of new bands that interest me. Some bands work for me live but have yet to make a recording that can hold my interest. There are so many variables in how music is taken in and made that to say what makes something "good" is rather difficult.
What are your thoughts on the current state of American black metal? USBM arguably started in the Bay Area with Weakling, and has since grown into this sprawling, progressive, critically-acclaimed (or at last, acknowledged) scene. Is it surreal to see bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Krallice getting talked about in the New York Times or on NPR?
Well, USBM probably started with Von, then Profanatica, but Weakling was very influential on the west coast. Both bands you mention owe a huge debt to Weakling. Wolves took Weakling and simplified it, Krallice expanded on it. I haven't really given much thought to the attention the USBM is getting these days. The early Norwegian bands are winning Grammys in their country, so I think it is just progression. Black Metal has gotten too big for major media to ignore and not seem out of touch. While it's nice to see American bands getting some accolades, I think that it is a bit of a dilettante's game. I mean, where is all the praise for Absu, one of America's longest running Black Metal bands who happen to release one of the best albums of last year?
Agalloch in Brasov (more by Stefan Raduta)
Do you miss the older days of USBM when only a handful of people knew, or cared, about what was going on?
Not particularly. My experiences with listening to music remain the same. It can be frustrating seeing hobbyists flooding the bins with subpar releases, but on the other hand it can also mean exciting new bands. It makes you have to sift more through chaff to find the wheat.
The West Coast and Bay Area in particular has a long history of metallic excellence,and in recent times has played host to an absolute explosion of talented, interesting new bands. Who are some of your favorite new California metal bands? I'm guessing Dispirit and Fell Voices will fall somewhere on the list...
Dispirit and Fell Voices are both excellent. I would also add Lascowiec and Bosse De Nage to the list of amazing Bay Area Black Metal bands. I have also been impressed recently by Vastum, who feature members of Acephalix and Saros, doing Bolt Thrower worship. Elk from Oakland are getting better and better every time I see them.
Ludicra at Europa (more here)
You've mentioned before how deeply the city of San Francisco affects Ludicra's music and lyrics, and have lived there for many years. How important is living in San Francisco to your creative process? The city seems to have this unique energy and vibe, something I've never found anywhere else - is this what you feed off of?
I think cities in general have a certain zeitgeist that is reflected in their bands. People who live in SF have an almost romantic love for this city, it's architecture, it's weather, it's art... But it is also a hard place, it's expensive, it can seem wholly unwelcoming at times. Ludicra never set out to be the audial essence of the city, we never set out to be anything other than a band, the link to SF is almost natural and unintentional. I remember a few years back people were talking about the Bay Area sound, but I think the bands here are all unique. We may share a geography and the occasional beer but it ends there. Ludicra sounds nothing like Leviathan, and Leviathan sounds nothing like Weakling.
In regards to Agalloch, is it difficult to write and demo material with your Portland-based bandmates when you're living in different cities? How would you describe Agalloch's creative process?
Agalloch relies heavily on demos and doing things via mail. It's definitely slower than having a band that rehearses regularly and works out arrangements together. The three original members, John, Don, and Jason have the process down to a science. For me it was a bit intimidating, It is almost an exact reversal of the process that Ludicra uses to make records. As strange as it is, it obviously works. Agalloch makes impressive records for sure. It was exciting to be involved with the new album. Of course I wish I saw them more and we could work together closely on the material but I am not sure that if we all lived closer that would change.
Congrats on signing with Profound Lore, and the imminent release of a new Agalloch album. Expectations for this record are high, perhaps higher than ever, which has got to place a bit of pressure on this recording. How does it feel to be in the studio with your Agalloch brothers? How is the album taking shape?
Well, like I mentioned this is my first time in the studio with Agalloch. There was really no more pressure than any recording really. I believe the material to be strong and we did a great deal of preparation and demoing before tracking.
Aesop with Agalloch in 2008
What can we expect to hear on this new record, and how will it be different from your past few releases?
Without divulging too much I can say that it will be very different than past Agalloch releases, darker, but still having all the elements that make Agalloch special.
Agalloch are seldom seen in a live setting, which makes every performance seem like a special event. Is that your intent in limiting the band's live appearances? I know fans are always begging the band to do a full US tour; is that something you would ever be open to doing?
I think that some bit of the Agalloch mystique dies if we play out too much. Also we are dealing with scheduling issues when we play. I think the planning of an Agalloch show or tour requires much more than most bands, issues like gear , rehearsals, and flights come into play. With these factors in play we would rather play shows that are special to us in some way. I know that this can be frustrating to fans but if they put in the effort to see us then we work hard to make it a memorable experience. When we played in Romania with Alcest there was a thousand people from fifteen different countries there, that is much more rewarding to us then playing show after show opening for some bigger band.
Will Agalloch be playing any shows in support of the new material?
Yes, we have some plans for later in 2010 and early 2011.
Agalloch in Bucharest (more by Stefan Raduta)
Besides this record, what do you have planned for the upcoming year? Will Ludicra be doing any more touring/recording? Any new projects in the pipeline?
Ludicra is laying low, writing new material. I am also now playing with Worm Ouroboros, a great band from Oakland who have a brilliant album out on Profound Lore.
*Shortly after this interview, I was lucky enough to catch Agalloch's John Haughm perform with my friends in Vindensang at a rare performance in Philadelphia, PA, and during a chat after the gig, he confirmed that Agalloch will be embarking on an East Coast tour in March 2011. Keep your ears to the ground!