an interview with Josh Graham (Neurosis, A Storm of Light)
by Black Bubblegum
DOWNLOAD: A Storm Of Light - "Mass" (MP3) from the forthcoming And We Wept the Black Ocean Within
DOWNLOAD: Red Sparowes- "Alone & Unaware, The Landscape was...."(MP3)
DOWNLOAD: Battle Of Mice - "Sleep And Dream" (MP3)
Josh Graham is multitasking, and not in a chew gum and walk kind of way either. Graham first burst on the scene as the newest member of Bay Area titans Neurosis, handling the visual element which included live pieces and graphic design, eventually leading into the legendary "A Sun That Never Sets" companion DVD. On the heels of that well received DVD, Josh went on to direct music videos and design artwork for Dillinger Escape Plan, Enon, Jesu, Khann, Underoath, Saves The Day, and many others.
Meanwhile, Josh wielded a heavy (like the music) axe (like the guitar) in Red Sparowes featuring members of the like-minded Isis, Battle Of Mice with members of local metallers Made Out Of Babies, and Tribes of Neurot (a Neurosis related experimental project). His tenure with Red Sparowes has recently come to an end, but that hasn't stopped Mr. No-Sleep from starting another band... A Storm Of Light. A Storm Of Light recently opened up night two of the Neurosis/Mastodon extravaganza (their second show ever, check out videos from it here and here) and a Seattle date with Neurosis and Converge. Up next, A Storm of Light are scheduled to tear down the Pussycat Lounge in NYC this Saturday, March 29th with Hull in a show that will also feature the art of Jorden Haley.
BrooklynVegan's Black Bubblegum sat down with Josh to hash out his thoughts on democracy (in songwriting), how to keep it simple, and how much it means to him to be "Riding Dirty".
Neurosis @ Brooklyn Masonic Temple (hewins)
How are the Neurosis visuals created? Are they done strictly by individual song, or within a setlist? Are you given carte blanche to create the visuals or do the guys discuss the direction they are interested in going?
Josh Graham: First, each song has its own visual piece, which I have been doing for about the last 4 years. I felt like that was much more of a cohesive presentation, and also allowed me to focus on the specific feeling of each song. The visual mood and subject matter changes with each record; with "The Eye of Every Storm", the visuals are much more colorful, and relate to the open space within the music, focusing on nature and the archetypal imagery of man. With the visuals for "Given to the Rising", I went a completely different route. The projections should feel like they are happening within the realm of the artwork, a landscape that sort of embodies the Jack London quote we used, which in short says we would rather be ashes than dust, to burn bright rather than fade away, to use our time to the fullest. The artwork and the visuals to me, feel like they are an extension of that, an entire world that has just faded away, while some burn bright within it.
That said, I am given the freedom to create visuals for the music that I see fit, and this being the 8th year I have been in Neurosis, we all seem to continually be on the same page; kindred spirits I suppose.
Can we expect a new set of visuals to go along with A Storm Of Light's show?
For A Storm of Light, there will be visuals, but they are going to progress with time. I want to explore some different techniques; the Red Sparowes/Neurosis visuals had a similar aesthetic, maybe too similar, and since my visual work in Red Sparowes will no longer be seen in their live shows (although I am currently working on turning those into a video installation, with new soundtracks, etc), I'd like to move on and try something new. For the first two Storm shows there will be something simple, a repeating image that lends itself to the artwork, and that will set the new ideas in motion.
The name Battle of Mice is a reference to Alexander The Great, Red Sparowes is a reference to Mao Tse Tung and the Great Leap Forward.... your affinity for history and incorporating it into music is well documented. Can we safely assume that A Storm Of Light is not a reference to the seminal Dissection album ("Storm Of The Light's Bane")?
Haha, that is great. Nope, no relation to Dissection...I saw them play at Fury Fest shortly after the singer was released from prison, and not too long before his death; that is an intense set of circumstances. The name, A Storm of Light, relates to many things, I love the imagery it brings to mind, and the scope of references is massive, but overall, it seem to fit the idea of the music, sort of an all encompassing range of emotion.
Art from the upcoming "And We Wept the Black Ocean Within"
Tell me about the songwriting on the A Storm Of Light record.... did you write all of the songs on "And We Wept The Black Ocean Within" (out June 2nd via Neurot Recordings)? Were they a collaborative effort? If so, did some of them exist in another form for Red Sparowes or Battle Of Mice?
I worked with Domenic Seita and Pete Angevine over the course of a few months. While I wrote the guitars, keyboards, and vocals, their input was integral to the music. The initial ideas for these songs actually all came pouring out after months of tour with Red Sparowes. I couldn't stop writing. I sort of felt compulsive, and it felt cathartic to release all of this heavier music; it just felt right. I guess that is how the record title came about.
Can we expect any interesting guests on A Storm Of Light's record?
I wanted to keep the debut record simple and straight to the point, so there will just be the band members on the recording. Having just come from a band with a 5 person democratic writing process, it was nice to have a bit more focus in place.
Are there any tour plans in the works?
We are working on US tours right now. Nothing is yet confirmed, but there are some great possibilities we hope will come through. We'll be in Europe from August 13 through September 20th - supporting Neurosis on about half of that and headlining the rest.
Dillinger Escape Plan - "Panasonic Youth"
You are also a music video director, having directed for Isis, Enon, & recently, Chiodos (not to mention the entire Neurosis "A Sun That Never Sets" DVD). Any new videos on the horizon?
I am working a video now for a pretty large indie/metal/emo band, but i think after this is done I am going to reevaluate the video world. I would like to start focusing on doing more surreal work, longer formats and darker subject matter, stuff that fits in more with the other parts of my life and creative energy. I will be looking at doing a Neurosis video for the next release, and possibly A Storm of Light video as well. Chris Cunningham has been a long time influence on a lot of my work; having seen the path he has followed, it makes sense to me to go with your heart.
What is the current status of Battle Of Mice? Can we expect a new record?
Battle of Mice is on an indefinite hiatus. I am not sure what will happen with that band, but we do have a split release with Jesu planned, with two new songs, so hopefully that will come to fruition in the not too distant future.
So what's the word on that Battle Of Mice split with Jesu on Robotic Empire? Was this recorded during the A Day Of Nights sessions?
The Battle of Mice material was recorded about 9 months after we finished A Day of Nights. The split will have two new songs from both BOM and Jesu. Pretty exciting.
As of the new year, you are no longer with the Red Sparowes. Was there a recording in process (as hinted on myspace) and if so, did you lay down any tracks prior to your departure?
Yeah, it was time to move on. While we did work on new music together, my work will not appear on their upcoming record. I think being spread out on both coasts led to a difference in the kind of music we all wanted to pursue. The other four guys were on the same page while I wanted to make stuff darker and heavier, which just wasn't flying, which is ultimately why I chose to leave. I think we are all better off.
Your website lists that you are currently working with Jarboe... which incarnation of Josh Graham is this, the musician or the visual artist? What can we expect from the material, and when?
I actually recorded with her yesterday. I am playing guitar on four songs. The record, which is yet to be titled, is coming out this spring. It is sounding great, a very wall-of-sound kind of approach, and there are some great guests on the record as well. This should be great.
[Ed note: Jarboe has also announced Phil Anselmo and Attila Csihar as collaborators for the album]
More Blood & Time? Please.... details!
Scott [Kelly, from Neurosis] has just finished his solo record, and we are going to start soon on more Blood and Time material, I am excited to get back to it. We have about 3 or 4 songs so far which are promising and inspiring. Blood & Time will be Scott and Noah [Landis, from Neurosis] on the west coast, and me and Vinny [Signorelli, ex-Swans, currently Unsane and more recently, A Storm Of Light] on the east coast... pretty cool.
[Ed note: entitled "The Wake", look for it on Neurot Recordings on May 5th]
Hmmm... east coast AND west coast versions of the band... does this mean a Blood & Time tour is in the works?
Well, I think it will mean there will be more Blood and Time shows overall, which is cool. I bet it could boil down to maybe some coastal dates/tour stints.
Art from the 2007 LP "Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Red Sun"
You obviously have had a large list of collaborators... Who were some that you particularly enjoyed working with and why? Who are some "dream" collaborators that you would love to get into the studio with?
Collaborations...hmmm. Werner Herzog would be one of the foremost people I would like to collaborate with, perhaps work on a soundtrack to one of his films. He is a truly amazing filmmaker. Woven Hand i think would be amazing, I love the dark intensity of their music. I would love to do something with Arvo Part or Sigur Ros or Bjork or even visual artists like Bill Viola. There was one single released in the mid 90's with a heavy band backing Bjork that was great, seems like there could be some potential there.
I loved collaborating with Jarboe, it was a very cool experience and unlike any I have had. Joel Hamilton and Tony Maimone are amazing musicians as well. It was an honor to work with them; hopefully we'll be doing some new stuff soon.
Who are some music artists that inspire your visual art? Vice versa?
Music artists that inspire my visual art...
Currently - Swans, Sixteen Horsepower & Woven Hand, Kevin Shields, PJ Harvey, Low, Liars, Joy Division, Steven R Smith, Pink Floyd, Bjork, Black Flag.
Art that inspires my music...
Andy Goldsworthy, Bill Viola, Richard Serra, Julie Anne Mann, Matthew Barney, Bill Henson, Tara Donovan, Cai Guo-Qiang
There seems to be quite a few visual artists that have taken a home in heavy music... you, Jacob Bannon (Converge), John Baizley (Baroness), Ryan Patterson (Coliseum, Black Cross), among others. Is there something about metal/punk that lends itself to the visual element?
Yeah I think it seems a bit weird from the outside. Many people I freelance with don't fully get the attraction to heavy music, but I think that it's understandable; there is something so much more cerebral to a lot of heavy music these days. Buried deep within is a tap to almost every emotion within ourselves, to the human condition itself. This kind of music can reach down and touch a part of you that may be either intentionally or unintentionally hidden away, and i think that it is amazing. To create art to, and respond/react to something so intense is necessary for me; it's just part of who I am.
The Guardian recently ran a story on Metal and the overall lack of respect that it garners... be it in criticism, year-end polling, or general press coverage. Why do you think that metal is so demonized (pun unintended)? Do you feel a large and respected metal band will ever get the attention it truly deserves? Will metal remain a bastion of "outsider art"?
Man, that is a hard question to answer. I think it falls into what I said above. I think some people are afraid to open themselves up to heavy music. I think maybe it is too honest and too expressive for a lot of people to grasp. They need to cover up these feelings by listening to something happy or non-confrontational. While I am saying this, I want to note that I am not talking about every metal band on the planet, because for some, metal is just another money-making genre like all the rest. I am talking about bands that make music to expel what is inside of them, the people who are honest in their approach to themselves and to their fans. Hopefully that will change but it seems doubtful, unfortunately.
What are some bands that we should be looking out for in the coming year (other than A Storm Of Light, natch)?
Hmmm...that is also a hard one...I suck at these questions...just like when I go to a record store and I cannot ever remember anything I want. US Christmas [who also played the Neurosis/Mastodon show and have an album of their own out on Neurot June 16th], Torche, Buried At Sea, Witchcraft, Stand-Up Guy... there have to be more I suppose... argh.
Red Sparowes Live (f.p.o.)
You are a known Brooklynite. Since BV readers are avid concertgoers, and everyone loves a list, what were your favorite shows of the past year?
Torche at Blender Theater
Melvins at Luna Lounge
Pelican at Luna Lounge
Isis at Irving Plaza
Big Business at Knitting Factory
Chamillionaire at Hovefest in Norway... he pulled a kid up on stage and tried to get him to rap, and the kid ran away... amazing.
Hear that kids? A Storm of Light will be in Europe this summer, and so will Neurosis. And new Blood & Time material is on the way too! Come out and catch A Storm of Light on March 29 at the Pussycat Lounge in NYC (flyer below) and pick up And We Wept the Black Ocean Within when it drops June 2nd!
Thanks to Josh and Neurot Recordings.