Fallow Heart: THE ORIGIN OF LIFE Part lV (Paul Masvidal on The Beauty of Impermanence))

I remember listening to Focus as a teenager and feeling the convulsive, architectonic shift of possibilities blistering the material of my otherwise under-seasoned reality. Cynic’s debut fundamentally altered my understanding of what I could demand of art—whether it was created by others or by myself. In fact, it’s a personal axiom that Focus, (along with Faith No More’s Angel Dust,) permanently altered not only the way that musicians in the extreme music sphere composed and performed but crucially, how its audience actually listens to music. Just try to envision where the scene would be without those two records and the new panoramas that they introduced to us. They shoehorned the hereafter into the here and now; the improbable elided with the probable.

I also remember the expectations with which I saddled Cynic’s sophomore ‘comeback’ album Traced in Air. It was infeasible that it could provide me with what I—in my heart’s core—insisted that it must, (that is, to give me the exact feeling of listening to Focus while simultaneously presenting that feeling as entirely original and startling.) Nevertheless, that was my demand and I was therefore predictably frustrated. I wanted Cynic to act as a vehicle on rails and expected the dopamine to flow even as the thrills of the ride itself remained static. I don’t know about you but Traced in Air took a great deal of time for me to cozy up to. Cynic was not -nor has ever been- on rails and every one of its records has required taking the time to actually acquaint oneself with on an individual basis. (What a concept, right?) Cynic makes ‘Cynic Music,’ a thing unto itself which happens to be exacting and fluid and emotional and fundamentally alien.

After spending so much time mulling over the band and their debut record with Liam Wilson for the majority of this series, it felt not only appropriate but borderline obligatory to cap the entire shebang via a chat with Paul Masvidal. Of course, the nuts and bolts of Focus as a work of music have been extensively explored; my aim was to be educated on the genesis of Cynic’s conspicuous spirituality. Paul was more than happy to enlighten me, (and the pinhole leaks in my own spiritual comprehension have never been more conspicuous.) Suffice it to say, if you’ve studied and admired Cynic’s debut over the years as Liam Wilson or myself have, consider this closing Fallow Heart transmission a course requirement.

I got in touch with Paul just as he was just setting off to Miami to oversee the remix and remaster of Focus for its 30th anniversary. Perfect. Cynic has reached the ideal altitude for both stargazing and profound circumspection. We’ll be sailing deep into the hinterlands of memory but let’s begin with a bit of more contemporary lore first, shall we? Oh, and FYI: we’ll be piloting through some violent turbulence, there are no exit rows, there is no tarmac, your luggage has been lost on principle and the present moment is your one and only flotation device, (but, hey, at least you get to keep your devices on). Tray tables up.

We are always in transition.
If you can just relax with that, you’ll have no problem.
—Chögyam Trungpa

Fallow Heart: So much seems to have been shaken loose in your world directly on the heels of Kindly Bent to Free Us. When you were going into record Ascension Codes and Sean Reinert had only just passed away and then Sean Malone vanishes and you have all of this loss weighing on you, does the album that you’re gearing up to record still feel like a genuine expression or did you feel estranged from it?

Paul Masvidal: Man… I had to push through all this paralyzing trauma and discomfort. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with Michael [Berberian] from Season of Mist saying ‘I can’t do this. I can’t finish this record; it’s not going to happen.’ Like, bawling, crying… I was a mess. I had lost my band; there was no band! I mean, I forged my identity with those guys. It’s beyond family because you make intense art together, you live together… It’s such an entrenched relationship with so many layers. And Reinert and I having our falling out …it was just a really complex relationship that we had, incredibly creative and in some ways deeply telepathic. We had that incredibly unique tension that could produce interesting music. Another layer is just the unresolved nature of his loss because first I grieved losing him as a band member, (for the longest time I carried this hope that at some point we’d reconcile,) and then to physically lose him… it was for me one of the most significant moments of my adult life. Everything is suddenly turned on its head. I suddenly don’t know who I am or what the hell’s going on. It’s been a huge unraveling that feels incredibly surreal.

Regardless, I had to finish the record so I pushed through all of this discomfort and—to bring this to a spiritual practice—I think years of doing ‘duration sitting’ where you’re just sitting for hours and solely working with your mind goes hand in hand with a situation like this where you have to push through a hell of a lot of discomfort and meet all of these states of mind and keep going and just dealing with all of it. They talk about the five hindrances in Buddhism and for me it was all there. It was next level and it seeped into the music. I feel like what got imbued into the record was this pranic, Shakti, performance energy that was just on fire. At the same time, Ascension Codes also has this ethereal quality. I heard it recently with a friend who cranked it up in his car and I thought, ‘Wow, this record’s actually kind of soothing!’ It’s not as aggressive or heavy as I remembered. But it’s hard to be objective with all this stuff, even now. It’s almost an out of body experience.

FH: It is hard to be objective, I agree… You know, I used to put a lot of stock into objectivity when I first got into music journalism, (there was a lot of ego involved in it for me.) I felt like music critics were this rarified class of people who could listen to something totally objectively and say, ‘this is quality and this is not. This deserves your time and this doesn’t.’ I hungered for those credentials. But as time went on I became increasingly uncomfortable with that. After I discovered meditation and Buddhism and jettisoned a lot of old rage that I had, it happened to roughly coincide with Albert Mudrian suggesting that I helm this column. My initial idea was to write about Buddhism and my experiences with Eastern philosophies to other metalheads but over time what I’ve found is that, essentially any new discipline that you adopt (whether it’s a spiritual practice or martial arts or becoming a vegan or whatever) for the first leg of your journey, all you want to do is fucking talk about it to everyone; just get in their face and tell them about what you’ve discovered and how great you feel and how they should definitely be doing it too. But after a while, that new discipline becomes so much a part of who you are that you become too busy living it to be talking about it all the time.

Masvidal: Exactly! And that first part’s especially interesting because these are conversations that Cynic used to have all the time. In the age of the internet it’s like someone starts a blog and all of a sudden they’re a ‘so called’ journalist. We were so annoyed by that that we became very anti-press. I’d say, ‘I’m not going to do interviews with ‘Joe’s Blog’ out of Ohio because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about!’ Real journalists are people who’ve done their homework and understand art and have real insight. We used to rely on those people to get input into how to decipher and interpret things and I feel like it’s gotten watered down in this sea of over-saturation. So I get what you’re saying but I still have a lot of respect and regard for actual journalists. It’s important. In some ways it may be as important as the art itself. It’s a way of seeing.

FH: Right! The peculiar aspect is that in our heart of hearts we want to share what we’re experiencing so through that lens, criticism makes absolute sense. You want to share how this or that work made you feel. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with the actual merit of the art itself, it’s a mechanism for digesting our experiences. But when you’re talking about a record that can sound so different depending on if you have the day off of work or if you just had a huge blowup with your significant other, it’s like ‘how can you sit at your computer and write so glibly about what someone else created when at least a large portion of what we’re talking about is really a reflection of you, your temperament and your preferences?’ At the same time, I’m fascinated by reviews and absorbing other writer’s impressions…

Masvidal: Well, this is the Cynic story. I mean everyone destroyed us and then 20 years later they’re like, ‘I love Focus!’ It’s like, ‘No! You didn’t love Focus. Sure, now you’re saying that it’s cool but you weren’t there for us.’ And in some ways all of that criticism killed us, you know? We felt so discouraged by the scene and we felt so out of place it was like, ‘whoa; we don’t belong here!’

FH: Okay, so now you’re driving towards what I wanted to discuss with you. As Liam Wilson and I were talking about Focus and the impact that that album has had on his life we were obviously discussing you and we had questions about what your life was like prior to Cynic and especially how you came to have the belief structure that you do. What drew you to Yoga and Eastern philosophy in your youth and what did it offer you that you weren’t finding outside of those systems?

Masvidal: Well, I think part of it came down to being raised in a non-religious home. My mother was into New Age stuff and she was taking me to psychics and astrologers and I remember one astrologer in particular giving me the Yogananda book [Autobiography of a Yogi]. I was also going to an occult bookstore down the street in my mom’s neighborhood. I’d ride my bike to this place and pour over stuff; I just naturally had this inclination. I remember my mother taking me to bookstores because I was just such an avid reader and she’d say ‘get whatever you want’ and I remember buying a book on Magick as well as a copy of The Satanic Bible, (I was trying to be rebellious, you know?) But my mom was so cool that I had a hard time shocking her. I had that kind of upbringing where it was all open; there wasn’t anything to rebel against… I always had a lot of empathy for friends who did grow up in restrictive religious environments. They had to go to church and parents were telling them, ‘this is what you’re supposed to believe!’

Anyway, my brother’s [Maheshananda] also a Yogi. He makes a living that way and puts out books… I’ve always thought that it’s not an accident that the two of us ended up deeply engaged in these kinds of interests, you know? But I think it all started with having a home environment that was just open and accepting. My mom was curious about things and she basically invited me to be curious about everything too. I remember, she was reading a Shirley Mclane book called Out on a Limb. It was a real breakthrough piece of media just in terms of introducing spiritual concepts to pop culture. In the movie she talks about a bookstore called The Bodhi Tree which was a famous bookstore in West Hollywood from back in the day. So I had this fascination with The Bodhi Tree and I would contact them when I was a kid, (I remember them faxing me instructions on how to read the I Ching.) So when I finally got to visit that store my mind was blown because it was like a spiritual library, you know? This maze of halls and little crevices and nooks where there were just all these books based on different themes related to spiritual topics and they had this tea that you could serve yourself; I mean, the place was incredible; it just had a vibe. I moved to L.A. in my mid-20’s so of course I frequented it all the time and I’ll never forget… Well, let me back up: I got into the Paramhansa Yogananda stuff as a teenager and by the time I was 18 years old I was a Kriyaban [an adept in the Yogananda order], (the Focus album was all about that.) I was densely immersed in Yogananda and all of the stuff that I was learning and absorbing from meditation practices and visualizations. You know, I even got permission from the organization to use a prayer of his for the song “Sentiment.” It was my entire world! But I’ll never forget being at The Bodhi Tree years later in my mid to late twenties with a Yogi friend, (who’s now a really happening and amazing teacher,) and him pulling out a Chögyam Trungpa book and saying, ‘Now, this is the dude!’ And I was immediately pulled to it. That book ultimately led me out of a lot of my old [Hindu] practices and on to the whole Shambhala and Tibetan Buddhism scene. That really became a kind of doorway for me; the path kind of opens itself up, you know what I mean? Certain teachings just resonate with you and the reason that I went more along that path is that I found that it contained a lot of things that were especially interesting to me: Shamanism, Magick… it got into all of these deep practices and although the more secular/religious aspects of Tibetan Buddhism turned me off, the actual sitting practices and the practical aspect of working with your mind…man! That stuff just got me, you know?! To this day I still consider [Chögyam] Trungpa my primary teacher. He was so clear and cognizant; he could just tell you everything. His most recent [postmortem] book that came out is called Cynicism and Magic. I would always defend a Cynic as being a Yogi. Obviously the word has changed and it’s been skewed in modern contexts so people have this negative association with a cynical person. I mean, it’s okay, words do change with culture and with time.’ But it’s interesting how Trungpa reclaims it in this book and talks about the use of cynicism as a means of discernment in the spiritual path. It was so beautiful to me that this great teacher bridged the gap and finally explained the roots of this word in the context of Buddhism.

FH: Going back a little, as an 18-year-old, things are really beginning to gel for you and you’re beginning to grasp certain concepts that will prove to mean so much to you for the rest of your life. Did your sexuality make sense to you at that point? What role did it play in this aspect of your journey?

Masvidal: You know, it’s interesting. A point that I feel like I should bring up is that I was committed to being an exceptional musician. I was committed to really developing my craft and my skills as a songwriter and a guitarist so I practiced like a maniac, you know? I still have that drive but what I’m saying is that at that age it went hand in hand with meditation and a spiritual practice because, (especially in considering the original Cynics,) it requires all this discipline, right? So I was really committed to fasting and… you’re just not giving yourself all of the pleasures of life, you’re doing the hard work. And so it was more of an internal process and it went hand in hand—the spiritual practices and the role of a driven, really committed musician—all the internal work and the insights gained from the sitting practice and how that correlated to playing guitar and crafting songs and the meaning that went into the songs. So, to answer your question, no. What’s interesting is that although I was ‘out’ to myself pretty young, (by my late teens I’d started to come out to my family and my friends) overall, I just laid low. I think it was in my early twenties that I began to really be more out with it but still I felt like I really had to be careful because, (especially in the death metal scene) it felt really unsafe. I was around people who were saying ‘faggot’ and it was a really homophobic and misogynistic scene, you know? We didn’t fit in. We wore cheap silk shirts and baggy clothes and Ganesha T-shirts and tie dyes while playing this weird, prog/death metal stuff. We definitely didn’t have the look. It was difficult because the tolerance just wasn’t there at that time. Also, when I was ready to completely ‘come out’ and actually explore my sexuality, AIDS was ravaging the world, (and in particular this country.) Where I lived in Miami, a lot of gay men were going there to die. It was like a whole population of them descending upon South Beach just to pass away, (I guess it had something to do with the warm weather…) So it was really a thing where I started to see that there was this fucking plague that’s wiping out gay men and it pushed me back into the closet and I basically went celibate. I was terrified of hooking up because I thought that I could be next. And who knows? That reaction could’ve saved my life, you know? It was everywhere at that time and a lot of people were dying and so I just went further and deeper into my music. It’s amazing when you repress certain things how it can be expressed creatively. I mean, that’s happened throughout history. People repress their sexuality or certain qualities about themselves and then they wind up making this beautiful art, you know? And I think Cynic had that kind of pressure where we really wanted to be free and gay. Sean and I had that together and yet we couldn’t so we said, ‘fuck that then. We’re going to be crazy, killer musicians.’ That kind of got channeled into being more intense players and it became our weapon. It became our identity.

FH: That’s so fascinating! And it makes absolute sense. It has a certain elegance to it but it’s incredibly painful at the same time. As your career was beginning to pick up steam—first with Death and then with Focus—was there a point at which you became concerned that you were having to compromise some aspect of one discipline for the other? What I’m asking is, was metal and touring difficult for you to reconcile with your spirituality?

Masvidal: Oh, yeah! I remember meditating in filthy bathroom stalls in punk clubs all over the world. Like on the Death Human tour my first job was always to find a place that I could meditate immediately after I got off of the bus. There were parts of Eastern Europe that were incredibly gnarly and I have these memories where it’s like, ‘I’m going to keep meditating…’ and it became this task to kind of stabilize my mind in what felt like a very challenging environment. You know the thing with this profession is that touring is generally unhealthy. You’re not sleeping well. You’re not in a city for more than two days and the constant movement and the way that you’re being worked…it takes its toll. Add to that the fact that every night’s a party so the booze is flying as well as the drugs. Every city you’re in is an event so it’s really easy to lose balance and get more caught up in the external world of just showing up for an audience every night, (which is a lovely thing to do; it’s a reciprocal thing and it’s beautiful) but at the same time it really is a compromise with a spiritual practice that tends to be more about solitude. I had to really make an effort to find space in order to keep practicing and do that work in those environments. I mean, you’re bringing up things that I haven’t thought about or talked about… I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me about all the shit I had to go through to maintain a meditation practice on the Death Human tour!

FH: Do you think that you were somehow able to cannibalize those challenges and turn them into something that’s provided you with the strength to maintain these practices throughout your life? Was it meaningful or was it more just incidental?

Masvidal: It was definitely meaningful. This was all like seed planting, you know? I feel like it’s all connected. For example, I would say it’s why I was able to finish Ascension Codes in the middle of the incredible hardship of losing my band. And I think, too, the durability of those years… I learned to tolerate a lot more bullshit. When you’re younger you kind of see it all more as an adventure. Whereas, when people get older, they get more stuck in their ways and become less patient. At that point, it was exciting. It was a way of engaging with my environment. And I still do that but I don’t know if I would put myself in some of the situations I was in back then. There were some rough spots, man! Yeah, it’s all connected; that’s the thing. And I don’t know that we can ever really see how these things connect until we can actually look back and go, ‘Oh, okay. I can see how this was related to that. How that behavior is tied to this.’ You know, when Chuck [Schuldiner] got angry… Chuck was generally such a chill stoner dude but when he got triggered—and it was generally something related to the music business or something having to do with a girlfriend—it became a polarizing environment. You were either with him or against him; there was no gray area. You had to completely support him or you were his enemy and it was difficult to navigate that space. For many of us, we would generally just distance ourselves… But I had this spiritual pride as this ‘disciplined, meditating guy,’ thinking that I had some insights. And I did have some… I was essentially raised by therapists. One thing that I didn’t mention was that I came from a pretty traumatic environment. Both of my parents were remarried three times by the time that I was 10 years old so there was a lot of upheaval in the home. I was this high IQ, introverted kid that basically didn’t play with the other kids in the playground because of it. I was just shut down because I was overwhelmed, empathetically absorbing what was happening in my home with my parents and with all the chaos. My mother saw that and she knew that I wasn’t accessible so she put me in therapy when I was five years old (I’ve always joked that I was raised by therapists.) I was constantly in a room with someone observing me or asking me questions and it led to another kind of pathway for me; to being more insightful and trying to understand how your own mind works; accepting that you should stop blaming other people and should take responsibility and become self-reliant… All of these lessons…I think that that was the beauty that came from being in therapy at such a young age. It really helped me to see stuff and got me out of those prisons that we can lock ourselves into, you know? It’s interesting, these Western models combined with the Eastern ones… I really had the merging of those two happening, right? Meditation practice with therapy; they kind of go hand in hand.

A lot of people turn to something that they hope will liberate them without their having to face themselves. That is impossible.
—Chögyam Trungpa

FH: There’s an asceticism that you were describing in terms of your early life and the discipline that you adopted. Is that what attracted you to extreme music? Is it that you saw a foil that you could explore in that way or was there something else entirely about it that caught your interest?

Masvidal: I think initially, the attraction came down to rebellion, right? My older brother was doing the classic rock thing and I just went further with it: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slayer and Metallica… I was drawn to things that pushed the envelope and I think that a lot of that had to do with my personal anger. The aggression spoke to me. And I can still identify with it; I appreciate extremely aggressive music if it’s done well. It’s interesting how it’s evolved, right? It used to be more of a punk aesthetic, it wasn’t about musicianship. It was more about the energy and the vibe of violence and aggression. I remember back in those early days of spiritual practice and I thought I had moved beyond a lot of this, like, ‘I’m not aggressive anymore. I can’t write heavy music anymore.’ And it was like, ‘yeah, right! You’ve barely cracked the surface here!’ The truth is that it’s so subtle, the ways that our rage and aggression appear and I don’t know that we’re ever really finished with it. It’s more that you learn how to work with it. So, the early days were more about connecting to that energy. I mean, the early Cynic demos were almost like punk. They had a crossover vibe and political lyrics and then the more that I got into a spiritual practice and found that it went hand in hand with music, I got turned onto jazz and classical music. But the energy and the aggression of really heavy music spoke to my adolescent rage and my pain and my frustration and how I just felt so disconnected from everybody. It spoke to my isolation and depression. It was real for me and it felt very heavy. All of that stuff kind of blends itself well and that’s the beauty of this kind of music. It becomes an outlet to work through some really intense stuff and if I didn’t have that outlet…I don’t know where else it would’ve gone. The vehicle to process a lot of layered, deep stuff that couldn’t be done with words became music; you could just dig into this gnarly riff and scream! It’s not an accident that I lost my voice. If you listen to Cynic’s ’91 demo, I was in full Chuck mode at that point; just guttural, barbed-wire vocals and it was brutal and it cost me my voice; of course it did! I destroyed my voice; I was raging and pushed it to the very edge until I just couldn’t do it anymore.

You know, I remember that I had an English teacher named Miss Adams and I would give her these poems that I’d written. I remember her telling me, ‘One day you’re going to be writing poems about love. You’re going to be in a different place.’ I was struck by that. Like, ‘really? You think so?’ This is really the birth of Cynic, (when we really found its voice on Focus). Suddenly there was more poetry in what we were doing like Miss Adams predicted. It felt like Cynic had found balance.

FH: Did you feel like you’d lost a part of your identity when you lost your voice? You’re the frontman; it seems like that would’ve been a huge blow. Do you remember what you were feeling at the time? 

Masvidal: I remember finally finding my voice because honestly, I could never really growl properly and then by the ’91 demo, at last I hit it. I captured this sound that I was going for. It was like Jeff Becerra and Chuck Schuldiner… this brutal, raging but controlled growl. But of course it wasn’t a technique, I was screaming, you know? So I remember going to a doctor because my throat was really hurting and he just told me, ‘Look, if you keep doing this you’re not going to be able to speak. This is long term damage that you’re doing to your vocal cords.’ I knew at that point that I was going to keep writing the lyrics and so this signifies the emergence of the vocoder. I wasn’t confident as a singer but with the vocoder, I could still be a vocalist. I hid behind this weird keyboard voice sound and it really worked for Cynic because it made us sound more modern. Like, the sound of the band with this vocoder… it was like, ‘this is so interesting!’ It wasn’t quite a human voice, it’s synthesized. So as someone who also enjoys writing, I got to keep being a lyricist. I lost my voice as an aggressive singer but it was ultimately a blessing because I didn’t really identify with singing in that way anymore. I felt like I could still tap into that kind of emotion through my guitar playing, I don’t necessarily have to do it vocally. And thankfully, there’s a lot of people out there with these incredible gifts that can just cop that sound and they just know how to work the technique and it’s almost more of an affectation than like…raging, you know? It’s a different approach, which kind of makes you question where it’s coming from and how authentic it is.

FH: There’s a definite irony there.

Masvidal: Yeah, a lot of the growling vocals that I hear these days are more of an affectation than they are… God, I remember when we were cutting Human, Chuck was already getting tired of growling and this is back in ’91 but he was simultaneously refining his voice. But it wasn’t until he—and mind you, Chuck rarely drank—but he got a couple of beers in him and he just relaxed to the point where that voice came out. It was even more controlled and really powerful but he usually had to loosen up mentally because he was almost timid in regards to what that represented on a personal level. It was interesting to witness that because he could do it so well, you know?

FH: Unquestionably. I was actually the vocalist of a death metal band when I was younger and of course I was wrecking my voice but what I liked about the sound that I was getting was that my voice—even as I was destroying it—was authentic. It would crack and break but I liked that those imperfections demonstrated real emotion. Tapping into the spirit, (and I don’t just mean that as a euphemism) but I think maybe a literal spirit…

Masvidal: Oh, total possession, for sure! Like it literally feels like that… like what the fuck is coming through?! What is this, man?! I remember going to a warehouse party in central Florida where all of those bands were at the time. (We were city kids from Miami but we would go up and hang with the death metal scene up there.) So I went to this party with Chuck. Amon [pre-Deicide] was playing and Xecutioner [pre-Obituary]. I can’t remember who else but it felt like the whole scene was there and I remember hearing [John] Tardy open up his mouth and it was like, ‘What the fuck!’ This guy just took Chuck’s voice to another level! And I really think that in terms of that vocal style, he’s probably at the top of the game. And he still sounds even better live; it’s insane! After all these years he can still exorcise that demon and if you watch him, you can tell that he’s in it. He’s pulling that thing out of his body; it’s really intense for him.

FH: Decibel recently published a book on Obituary [Turned Inside Out: The Official Story of Obituary] and at one point, John Tardy expresses that it can be an emotionally challenging thing to be one of the primary elements that drives people to the band while also being its most divisive element. I get that but at the same time, it makes you wonder… would you really want everyone to be drawn to what you do and to this sound? I mean, what kind of world would that be? Don’t you kind of want to be the entity that the normies are repulsed by and scurry away from?

Masvidal: I know! But that’s always been the thing with death metal, right? I can’t tell you how many times we heard that with Cynic. The whole prog scene would say, ‘I love this band but I can’t do those vocals.’ The moment the growls appeared they were done so we never got to fit in with that more exclusive prog community. I mean, sure, now it’s become more acceptable but back then we felt like we were at the same level as all these other bands but they wouldn’t let us in because of that one element. It’s pretty crazy to see how big some of these bands with that style of vocal have gotten.

FH: Right? That death metal—of all things—could be a viable career. Could you even imagine that back in the day?!

Masvidal: It’s insane! Like Arch Enemy, for example. I mean granted, they’re more of a poppy, thrash-y thing but the vocals are brutal! They’re a huge band that’s doing really, really well and it just goes to show that it’s finally reached that critical mass to where enough people have gotten accustomed to it.

FH: Back to Cynic. The band seemed very unified in terms of its aesthetic. How much did that extend to the spirituality expressed in the lyrics? Was there an alignment there as well or was that part mostly you and the rest of the band just sort of rolled with it?

 Masvidal: I think the rest of the band was essentially open and dipping their toes in these concepts but I was the one that was completely absorbed in it, you know? As a band, we would all do psychedelics together and we had some really profound moments and insights. I think each member had their own degree with which they engaged in a spiritual practice or something but yeah, it was definitely me and my world—up to the Robert Venosa connection. His work had been a longstanding childhood fascination and it just blew my mind that we got to use his artwork; he was like this mythical figure to me! I remember when we got signed, Monte [Conner] was like, ‘Okay, you need an album cover,’ so I contacted a publisher that had been putting out his books and postcards and they said, ‘you know, you should just call Robert directly.’ For me this was the blossoming of what would become a spiritual father figure. Venosa held space like this wise elder for young artists—there were a few of us that had this sort of relationship with Robert; he really handpicked who he would work with. I think about all these conversations that we had… He’d lived as a free, liberated artist; I learned so much from him and he gave me a lot of confidence. Robert just saying, ‘Keep going. You got this. You’re good!’ you know? I didn’t have that from my parents; they didn’t understand what the hell I was doing. They were just like, ‘What is this weird shit that you’re making?’ They didn’t go against it but they definitely didn’t understand it. This is why I try to maintain relationships with a lot of young people and creatives. I have a lot of them around me because I know the impact that it had on me and I really feel like it’s my job to show up for other people who are going through that journey as well and do what I can to return the favor.

FH: Sure. Almost like a Bodhisattva.

Masvidal: Yeah! You’re just in service. That’s really what it’s all about at this point.

FH: In its way, Cynic was so audacious that I wouldn’t have presumed you struggled in regard to your confidence and the thought of you struggling in that way while still being as pioneering as you were… that’s even more badass because you’re basically unarmored. I’d just assumed that you went out there with this complete sense of hubris going, ‘This is me. This is what I’m doing and I don’t give a fuck if you don’t understand it.’ But really, it must have been incredibly fucking scary!

Masvidal: Well yeah, it was a little bit… A friend just sent me an interview I did back in the demo era for some documentary about the Florida scene and I see myself talking and immediately recognize all of the protection that I had put up in order to navigate a tough scene. You had to have your guard up. Vulnerability wasn’t honored in metal yet here we were, trying to straddle that line. I can see myself in those old interviews putting on this armor, you know? It was a way of protecting myself because internally I was so insecure—I think the music sort of reflected that. There was a degree of confidence in its execution but lyrically there was also a lot of… I was just trying to be seen, you know? It was entering into spaces that were more vulnerable and real rather than just about being tough or writing about fantasy. It goes hand in hand with a meditation practice, you know? Literally being in the moment and then that moment dissolves… That dream of watching the whole show from a meditative state, that was what really informed our aesthetic. The space that you inhabit when you have a sitting practice…I owe everything to that, (at least I think so.) And of course that gets twined into the music; you have these jazzy, complex harmonic elements and we were also really obsessed with more ethereal music. I was totally into shoegaze and really dreamy, abstract stuff. I remember the first time I heard My Bloody Valentine’s album Loveless, (I think it was while we were on the Death Human tour,) and just going, ‘What the fuck is this?! I love this!’ because it was so wall-of-noise/ambient/ethereal but there were still actual songs underneath it all! I mean, you could break those arrangements down into little piano arrangements and they sound like Beatles songs, but they’re buried in this wall of ethereal noise.

FH: Your speaking of hearing Valentine for the first time and being so attracted to it sparks a lot of joy in me! I can remember these exact points in my life, just walking along, minding my own business and then you catch a melody off of some radio or some device and all of a sudden it’s like falling in love. Like, I have to know this better; what is this? The beautiful moment, (when you look at it from a grander perspective) is that it’s almost like the music doesn’t actually exist if you haven’t ever heard it so it’s like this amazing encounter where the music needed you as well to receive it. It’s like the receiver and the music itself are finally finding counterpoints that are worthy of one another.

Masvidal: Wow! That’s so true because until it’s heard it doesn’t really exist. It’s like…you’re both ‘in on it.’ I’ve never thought about it in that way.

FH: Yeah, and you’re giving it that value so it’s a beautiful moment really for both you and for the music.

Masvidal: Yeah, that is so cool! It’s like my brain just exploded thinking about how these things don’t exist until they’re perceived and then it becomes this space that you cohabitate once you’ve interacted with it and that’s its own thing.

FH: Nice! So, you’ve kind of touched on this already but you mentioned in a previous Decibel interview that you feel that with Cynic in particular, something is channeling you in terms of the writing process. Can you elaborate on that and has that always been the case for Cynic?

Masvidal: Yeah, it’s always been the case that as much as it’s disciplined and mindful and precise and all of these things that go into this high attention to detail—to where it pretty much drives everyone around you crazy… I mean, I basically alienate everyone that I’m working with because they’re just like, ‘Why do you care about that so much?’ We’ve had those moments with every record where people are like, ‘Just stop!’ But I’m finding that the few people that can hold space for that are the people who understand that what’s happening, what’s unfolding isn’t really coming from me. I’m showing up for a process and it’s about trying to capture something and until it’s ready you just keep going, (and honestly, it’s never really ready so it’s this ongoing exercise of just trying to pin something down that’s constantly moving until you can say, ‘Okay, this is close enough. I can stop now.’) I’ve said this before but the process is incredibly personal because it’s emerging from you but it’s simultaneously so impersonal in that every record that Cynic’s made, (and that certainly includes Ascension Codes,) is like… I don’t really know what it is that I’ve made until way after. It can be years before I start to understand. I generally don’t listen to it and the normal course of events [for other bands] is that you’d go tour the record and that hasn’t been Cynic’s thing. It’s just like, it gets made and then it’s gone. For example, I’m about to go shoot a video for Strandberg [Guitars] for an updated model of my guitar that’s in production and I chose a song from Ascension Codes to play so I’m relearning it because I haven’t really played it since it was recorded and I’m like, ‘What the fuck is this part!? Where did this come from?’ It’s like you don’t really understand what happened other than that you were propelled and driven by a process to make something. Then it gets made and, (this is what’s kind of cool about not touring it,) it just becomes this piece of art that you don’t necessarily have to revisit, you can now just move on to the next piece of art, right? So I’ve been more in that mind-space of, ‘just continue creating.’ With touring, you’re not really making anything. To me, it doesn’t feel very creative to tour, it’s more of an interactive performance process and I’d rather make things at this point.

FH: That’s interesting. So it’s like you feel like an MP3 player when you’re up there… I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to Don Anderson of Sculptured. He told me that live performance is his opportunity to really get in touch with his emotions regarding a piece because for him, neither composing nor recording are emotional exercises. So for Don, the live setting is when it finally becomes a living thing that he interacts with. That performance on that night is the one and only expression of that work that will never be exactly repeated again.

Masvidal: Huh. I get that. There is a sacred component to the live performance that’s so unique and special. I mean, you almost can’t compare it but for me, unless there’s a real improvisational aspect to the concert it doesn’t feel… A lot of it, (especially the kind of tours that we were doing) playing night after night you just have your set, you know? You might have one moment where you get to freak out and do something different but for the most part you’re just pumping out those songs night after night and, granted, there’s subtle differences in terms of the details in which you execute things and refine things and maybe a solo was played better this way and I can make this or that better… Live music is its own incredible journey but I feel like it’s probably a deeper one if your thing is largely centered around improvisation, (like you’re a Pat Metheny or something, you know what I mean?) It’s like there’s more subtlety and the artform has that improvisational quality that’s so in the moment but for a lot of bands it’s just so mechanical and frankly, I also have some trauma associated with it. Those last years of touring with Cynic, Sean [Reinert] was so not into it… I mean, he was such a natural and gifted performer. Like, in a live setting, he could just execute things flawlessly and when he was at the top of his game he was the best in the world. Easily. But in those later years when he wasn’t really into it and he didn’t want to play or he didn’t want to play that way… Man, the thing with that kind of playing is that it’s really hard on your body. A prog drummer of that level, it’s something that you peak in your twenties and thirties and afterwards it’s just so physically demanding. It’s like an Olympic sport and after a certain point it just doesn’t work the same way. Sean was at the top of the heap. He was as good as it got but then he just burnt out so on those later tours he began having physical problems. He couldn’t finish sets and stuff. He would never play anybody else’s drum kit, which I understand. He would never make any compromises and that highlights his integrity but simultaneously it made things very difficult because Cynic was never all that big. We couldn’t have these outrageous demands and yet we did! We had them. We were like, ‘if we can’t bring our own drum set and our own this and that then we’re not doing the show. We always had these precedents that made us look like Prima Donnas but it was just the reality in which we were only able to meet these physical demands in a live context.

FH: That’s rough and yet I absolutely understand Sean’s insistence on having his own kit. As a former guitarist, I used to be pretty good (if I do say so) but I could not pick up a strange guitar and execute in a satisfactory manner; certainly not live. It was out of the question because I’d forged a relationship with my instrument. There was faith and a bond between us…including its flaws and my own flaws.

Masvidal: Oh, for sure! And it’s much easier these days, especially for guitar players. Your whole rig is in a petal and your guitar is in your backpack. It’s like you can just do this anywhere but for a drummer it’s different. I saw Atheist a couple of times recently and Kelly’s [Schafer] keeping it going with this young band who are doing an amazing job. And the drummer was playing Suffocation’s drum set and I was saying, ‘Dude, I have to hand it to you…’ and Kelly’s like, ‘Oh, yeah. It’s a thing. I’m playing someone else’s guitar every night,’ you know what I mean? The action’s all wrong and the string gauge and the neck feels weird and he’s making it work!

FH: Yeah! It’s like being expected to lecture in a language that you’re not completely fluent in.

Masvidal: Exactly! But you know, people in the rock and roll business would be like, ‘That’s just paying your dues, man. You can’t be precious about that shit.’ It’s like, ‘Hey, man, if you spent countless hours on an instrument and you developed a high degree of finesse and skill, you deserve to play the instrument that you’re accustomed to,’ you know what I mean? I get it. I get why people would be stubborn about wanting to use their own drum sets.

FH: This will change tack drastically so pardon the digression. I received word just this morning that an old friend of mine had passed away last night due to pancreatic cancer. Wonderful person; just a beautiful man. Since I had the opportunity to talk to you, an intensely spiritual person who’s dealt with more than your fair share of loss, (and also, metal is so fetishistic about death) I wanted to ask: what do you think happens to us after death?

Masvidal: I’m really sorry to hear that and I wish that I could answer that question… I’ve had what people have described as ‘death experiences’ in that I’ve done a lot of high dose psychedelics where you’re completely annihilated. You touch what seems like a death state because your identity is just dissolved, (and I’ve touched this in intense meditation practice too but with a psychedelic you’re sometimes just hurled into it.) So that’s as close as I’ve gotten to it which seems to me that it’s a state of the loss of your identity and the whole attachment to form. This is kind of the goal of all spiritual practices: to access that state where you’re not attached anymore and you really accept how we’re all one thing; kind of one living organism that’s breathing itself but…I don’t really know. I mean, I could give you all these Buddhist explanations and I could tell you what I’ve learned from the Tibetan Book of the Dead about dying practices. I’m fascinated with all of that stuff, (especially the advanced practices like The Rainbow Body technique where it’s like these people have actually mastered death…) The reincarnation model makes a lot of sense to me. It resonates the most in terms of there being this energy that drives the body and (of course) the energy itself doesn’t die; it always exists so when the physical form (the flesh) stops working, that energy has to go somewhere. That makes sense to me. The energy moves and it goes and it inhabits something else; it’s fascinating. We’re just this energetic thing that keeps evolving and it inhabits form and then maybe it stops inhabiting form or it goes into other realms perhaps where there’s no physical forms and it’s something more like ‘light bodies,’ you know? Regardless, this is the beauty of impermanence. None of us can really answer this. It just is. It just happens.

FH: ‘The beauty of impermanence’ is a marvelous turn of phrase. I like that very much.

Masvidal: It’s fascinating when you look at those drawings of reincarnation cycles or those Hindu drawings where we start out as mineral… like, we literally start out as rocks in this realm and then we merge into plant life and then into more sentient life; it’s like these varying degrees of awareness and consciousness that kind of evolve through to how consciousness inhabits form in this realm, you know? They say, (in Buddhism especially) that it’s a real honor to actually be able to acquire a human body. It’s really precious and rare which is why they say ‘Don’t take this for granted. You’re extremely lucky.’ It’s a special thing that you get to have this level of awareness.

FH: Buddhism expresses that we should divorce ourselves from outcome and from expectations, (including hope). But simultaneously, it seems that we do have a goal, (whether it’s to attain enlightenment or else to break the cycle of life, death and rebirth.) How do you reconcile those polarities?

Masvidal: You’re reminding me of a Trungpa lecture that he gave called Journey Without Goal. It basically emphasizes the idea that there is no ‘over there’. The whole point of your practice is about working with your current situation at any given moment and that there’s not a destination. It’s literally always within this moment that the real work exists. That’s the goal. Not to think that there’s something that you have to get over or to complete. It’s not over there and it never was. That’s the paradox; it’s like a riddle. There’s no place to be and when you can relax enough to dissolve into that place you start to realize that, ‘Oh, my god, it’s all just happening. There’s nothing to accomplish.’ I had this insight recently where I thought, ‘Do I actually need to read another book? I’ve been reading so much for so long.’ It’s like, how about just getting to know my own mind, rather than externalizing things and always assuming that the answer’s outside of yourself somewhere? It’s a riddle, right? So yeah, I think those two aims you mentioned are inherently contradictory and the thing that’s so interesting about this path is that it’s not ‘over there.’ It’s always here; that is the practice. To use a pop-culture term, it’s about ‘leaning into it.’ Rather than push away when you feel uncomfortable you just meet it. You sit with all this stuff that you don’t want to sit with and get familiar with all of that stuff. That’s the magic of this moment.

FH: That’s an amazing statement…

Masvidal: Well, it’s just about stopping this struggle and stopping the assumptions that things should be any different than what they are. Stop arguing with the particular version of reality that you’re experiencing and just accept what’s happening fully. Trust and show up and don’t be at war with what’s unfolding. It takes a lot of wisdom and courage to do that. There’s a lot of ‘spiritual materialism,’ especially in the New Age scene…these people actually started to scare me. After I’d gotten deeper into Buddhism I would sometimes go back into these more ‘New Age-y’ scenes and—especially in L.A.—you’d see the whole gamut. You could smell the underlying rage and the unresolved issues from people that are just looking for quick fixes and trying to manipulate their realities to think that they’re somehow enlightened or are at ease with their reality when underneath it all, they’re seething, do you know what I mean? And the thing is, you can’t really manipulate this. It’s not an intellectual process. You have to undo your mind and unlock it. That’s the appeal of a lot of this psychedelic work. It blows you out of those states that you feel like you had agency in. Suddenly, you have nothing to hold onto anymore. It’s terror; there’s no safety net. That was one of Trungpa’s famous quotes, ‘The bad news is, you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there’s no ground.’ It’s like you’re in this constant free fall and you never land. That’s the path. You can’t hold on anyway so it’s important to know how to stop trying to. That’s basically a metaphor for a Yoga practice, right?

FH: Yeah, I guess so! So, I had one last question that I really wanted to ask…

Masvidal: For sure!

FH: Do the expectations of your audience—who know you peripherally through your albums and through interviews and the rumor mill—do you feel that those expectations can and perhaps even have chained you to the past? Focus is a great example. Everyone wants to talk about that record but your life is so filled with your work and your other creations… do you feel that there’s an energy attempting to root you to the past?

Masvidal: Oh, absolutely! Are you kidding me?! I mean, jeez. Every other day I get a DM from someone asking what Chuck Schuldiner was like, you know? Especially the metal scene, which for better or for worse, is so nostalgic; I mean, the dedication and the loyalty of the metal scene is really amazing. But at the same time, you’re beholden to your past and they want you to stay the same. It’s the curse, right? Like there’s literally a scene of people who think that we lost our way when we made Focus! They’re all about the demos; that’s it. And then there’s just the Focus people who can’t move past that and now my label president’s telling me that there are people who refuse to listen to the new album because it’s not Sean and Sean. This is the metal scene for you. At the same time, it’s pushing forward and there’s a lot of advancement and open-mindedness and it has come such a long way… But yeah, it’s the most nostalgic genre!

FH: I’d say that we do like to chew on something without ever fully digesting it.

Masvidal: Yeah! We love it! I mean, I’m guilty of it, too. I dig into some of those periods of my life and some of those bands and even just going to see Atheist and then immersing myself afterwards in all of those Piece of Time songs… I was absolutely fan-boying and it felt so good! But that becomes a curse for artists, especially ones that are pushing forward. There were always plenty of bands that played it safe. They found a sound and every record after their first couple of albums becomes a variation of a theme; they never really do anything different. So many bands in this scene are doing that and Cynic’s curse—but then again, I guess it’s not a curse—is that we never wanted to do the same thing. We were always trying to advance forward to uncomfortable places and make something new and rewrite what we’d done before so it was really challenging to the audience because they were like, ‘What’s your sound?’ Now, I’ve always felt like—at the end of the day—there is a sound. There’s a through-line there if you really listen for it but it’s not as obvious as it is with many other bands that kept it safe and consistent. For sure, dude, it happens all the time, especially when you’ve been in it for this long. I started as a teenager and it’s like there’s so much nostalgic references going on constantly that sometimes I just want to disappear. Just ‘get me out of this situation!’ you know? But most of the time I’m trying to meet it, just meet the person where they are. Maybe this or that record from a certain period really meant something to them and they’re always going to be psyched about it and that’s cool; I can relate to that. Just don’t keep me in that prison. Let me be a free, roaming and evolving human that’s shifting and changing just like you hopefully are.

The Beauty of Impermanence

Mindfulness does not mean pushing oneself toward something or hanging on to something. It means allowing oneself to be there in the very moment of what is happening in the living process – and then letting go. —Chögyam Trungpa

The post Fallow Heart: THE ORIGIN OF LIFE Part lV (Paul Masvidal on The Beauty of Impermanence)) appeared first on Decibel Magazine.


Fallow Heart: THE ORIGIN OF LIFE: Tall Tales of Creation Part lIl (Fit for a Pine Overcoat)

For this third and final liaison with Liam Wilson we’re going to veer a few clicks off the old access road, past the abandoned general store and on into a narrow, nigh-forgotten dale. We’ll wander deep along its mosquito-freckled gulley until we broach the cottonwood grove’s lavish canopy where there’ll be hootin’, hollerin’ n’ huffin’ 16 Horsepower’s brooding admixture of provincial instrumentation, tuberculosis-addled Americana and busted-blood vessel sermonizing. I hear the pit-stained morlocks ‘round these parts call this head-trip Sackcloth n’ Ashes. So yeah… it’s a country record, (but in a Midsommer kind of way.)

Now, I’ll admit to being previously unfamiliar with these brothers in Christ, (I wasn’t even aware of the direct connection between 16 Horsepower and the more familiar Wovenhand outfit.) I’ll also admit that this record ain’t precisely my mason jar of homemade jam but there is an underlying intensity to the band that completely fascinates. And the live footage… great balls of fire! I can appreciate how seeing a 16 Horsepower performance would catalyze a religious conversion or two in The Good Lord’s favor. This is where I experience the proverbial ‘vapors,’ (cue the tattered fainting-couch.) 16 Horsepower owned in a live setting. They on their lonesome could’ve forced Jericho’s storied walls through a cheesegrater—much less yank the cinder blocks out from underneath some anonymous nightclub; such is 16 Horsepower’s command and conviction. (It’s worth mentioning that I received most of my 16 Horsepower ‘Cliff’s Notes’ via the Sarah Vos directed documentary The Preacher; freely available on YouTube with the link provided at the end of the article.)

This final address from Liam is a tremendous amount of fun, (despite the underlying muck of many of its themes) and, as you shall see, our jaw-session revolving around a non-metal band had us talking way more metal than did our chat about Focus in Part II. (Oh, somehow also 100% more Tori Amos this go ‘round; you’re welcome.) So quit being a baby. Hide your pot-stills in the thicket, gather up your tithing coins and throw on your least gnatty dinner-jacket and/or itchiest prairie dress. The tribulations are tunin’ up and you’ve got plenty of explaining to do.

“…at first the band were simply called Horsepower, but a lot of people thought that was something to do with heroin. That really pissed me off so I decided to put something in front of it to distract them. “I got ’16’ from a traditional American folk song where a man is singing about his dead wife and 16 black horses are pulling her casket up to the cemetery. I liked the image of 16 working horses.” —David Eugene Edwards

C’mon Snake, Let’s Rattle

Fallow Heart: So, 16 Horsepower’s Sackcloth and Ashes... Tell me about your first impressions of the record. How’d you discover it?

Liam Wilson: I was probably 17, (so it was roughly 1997.) I remember my friend Sharon telling me that I’d probably dig the album. She put it on -and let’s just say, it was definitely not what I was expecting. I think she was even one of my friends that I knew also loved Shudder to Think, (so she had good taste) but I also knew that she’d probably not be pushing a metal record on me. I guess what I mean is that I honestly didn’t expect to like the album as much as I did but when I heard the first track [“I Seen What I Saw”] I was hooked by the second it got to the chorus. It has that darkness and the minor keys but also -and this kind of gets back to something I love about Cynic or almost anything that I really connect with—it has an honesty to it. It’s ‘true to form.’ It seems to lack ego and simultaneously to be kind of swaggering. I don’t really understand how they [16 Horsepower and Cynic] balance that so well but maybe it’s just because both Sackcloth and Ashes and Focus seem to be either channeling a higher power or else are just completely letting the muse run wild and the musicians themselves are just the instruments of its expression. I think that that’s basically what fascinates me about the devotional phases of certain artists. It’s like they’re just trying to take themselves out of the equation as much as possible and just be able to witness this artwork take form.

So anyway, I was around 17 when I first heard this record and it just became like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ I had to hear more. Not too long afterwards I was able to catch 16 Horsepower live and just seeing David Eugene Edwards, man… Look, you mentioned that you’d seen that early 16 Horsepower documentary and so I guess you’ve seen some of the live footage where he basically dips into that Pentecostal, ‘speaking in tongues’ thing. And as much as I know that it’s at least a little bit for show there was still something about it live, (in the context of the music and the total experience,) that was so… just awesome! And I mean ‘awesome’ in a totally literal sense. Like, I was in awe but kind of in horror at the same time. It scared me and it entertained me and made me want to be a better songwriter and made me think that like, any and all other music besides this didn’t matter, (at least in the moment.) This was the most amazing music being performed anywhere in the world right at that moment. I don’t know, it just fucking hit me! And I guess seeing it live with his weird, twitchy, medium-channeling thing; being kind of ‘touched by the Spirit’ was also weirdly cool. Like I said, even if it seems a little showy, there was something about it… It’s kind of like he’s the David Blaine of this shit, you know? (Actually, that’s a terrible analogy.) He’s like the Houdini of this shit. Or, like, I know it’s all a puppet-show but I can’t really make out any strings…

FH: I’ve actually not seen him speaking in tongues but I’ve witnessed the phenomenon loads of times. I grew up in a ‘charismatic’ Episcopalian Church and the sermons were super emotional: a lot of weeping and sporadic dancing in the aisles and also plenty of speaking in tongues. And like anyone, I’ve always seen these televangelists that begin speaking in tongues right before they ask you to fork over your money but I’ll also say that my mom’s among the most honest people that I’ve ever known and she would speak in tongues on occasion. She had nothing to gain; she’s as genuine as they come. I don’t understand the phenomena at all, (‘glossolalia,’ as it’s called.) But I guess anything can be appropriated for whatever you want to appropriate it for.

You could start fucking garbling whatever and have all the avarice in the world and it doesn’t mean that the real divine occurrence doesn’t inhabit some people’s experience. As you say, ‘what the fuck do I know?’

Wilson: Right. And that kind of loops back to the Extol/Azusa dudes. Christer (Espevoll, guitars) and David (Husvik/drums) both grew up in a Pentecostal church. The name Azusa partially comes from the ‘Azusa Street Revival,’ which was basically the birth of the Pentecostal church in California. But Azusa is also the name of an Indian healing girl. I think they named the town Azusa [located in San Gabriel Valley, CA] after her.

FH: I hadn’t heard that last part, but I dig the way that it feminizes the roots of the band name.

This is nothing but a total divarication but thinking about the relationship of metal and Christianity frequently reminds me of my mom. She’s one of those Evangelicals that -if all of them were like her- I think believers and non-believers alike would pretty much mesh. There’d be much more appreciation for one another and indulgence of differing viewpoints in general. Like David Eugene Edwards, she took the Bible as completely literal but was really troubled by many of its implications. I mean, she’d literally weep at the thought of people suffering an eternity in hell. And if you really believe in Hell, I mean, shouldn’t you weep for your fellow man? She loathed it; none of this smug, ‘you’ll get yours on Judgement Day, you cocksucker,’ shit. She genuinely loves people no matter what. I remember bringing home a Kreator cassette and her asking to read through the lyrics, (something that never led to a fun conversation.) Suddenly she’s tearing up and I was like, ‘Jesus. What, Mom!?’ you know; rolling my eyes. And she’s just blubbering about the possibility of Mille Petroza going to hell and asking if there’s an address that she can send a letter off to so that she could let him know that not only Jesus, but she, (Gayle) also loves him and wants him to know that he can write to her any time if he’s feeling troubled and needs a supportive ear… (needless to say, 12-year-old me was aghast at the notion.) ‘Mille, give my mom a shout and let her know that you’re okay!’

Wilson: Man, blessings to Gayle! I guess I can relate. During the ‘Satanic Panic’ era I had my tapes taken away, (not because they were Satanic but because my gay moms thought that maybe they were misogynistic).

FH: Oh, and they probably were!

Wilson: Yeah, okay; they probably were. But I remember my Somewhere in Time poster—I mean, totally in future-land, with all the hieroglyphic symbols and everything—being combed over and I remember being questioned, ‘Are these—you know—coded, anti-feminist sigils?’ [sighs] I mean, it was an interesting twist on the ‘Satanic Panic’ thing.

FH: That’s super funny that she’d interpret it in that way! Sometimes I feel that we’re all essentially journalists, (not for a publication but I mean for one another.) We all have our pressing issue—partially because of the body and the point in space-time that we inhabit—and we’re all just reporting back to each other on what it’s like to experience this world from our specific perspective.

Wilson: Yeah, I can see that. I mean, you don’t see the world as it is, you see it as you are.

FH: Right, right. It’s funny that you used the word ‘honesty’ when we were talking about 16 Horsepower because in that documentary The Preacher, David Eugene Edwards brings up Amy Grant and her ilk, (essentially Christian-pop institutions) and he’s like, ‘that sort of music never felt honest to me; I felt like I heard honesty coming from Nick Cave and from Joy Division and from AC DC,’ right? He said, ‘I didn’t agree with anything that those bands had to say but I felt like they were being truthful with me.’ And so, it’s also interesting to think of 16 Horsepower as a subversive Christian rock group by not sanding down those rough edges of the faith.

Wilson: Yeah, like punk, Christian.

FH: Maybe, but you’re on Solid State Records, bro. I’m pretty familiar with Tooth and Nail and Solid State and I’ve never heard a Christian Punk joint that sounded remotely like this! So let’s move onto the lyrics. One of the things worth noting is just this the way that David Eugene Edwards focuses on the cadence of the words; how they play amongst each other syllabically. Like,’I seen you in your red room laughing/ with your shinin’ coffee can/so many wrongs/ all kinds of going on/ I held my head and ran.’ You’ve already got so much of that alliterative quality while remaining incredibly descriptive, right? Or the line, ‘I saw you dancing on the pine porch-creaking.’ That just feels really good to say. I imagine it would feel really good to sing, as well.

Wilson: Exactly! Like I really tap into his line ‘I would forgive your wrongs if I were Abel/For my own, I feel great shame/ I take a brick to the back of your head if I was Cain.

FH: Right! It’s savvy. I dig the wordplay here because it invites the idea of David Eugene Edwards as a duality, reconciling spiritual discipline and carnal violence. And here we are, coming off of talking about the Cynic album where in Masvidal’s philosophy, we are literally all Cain and we are literally all Abel you know? You put a brick to the back of anyone’s head, you’re doing it to yourself, (a parallel to Jesus Christ’s admonition that when you feed or clothe someone in need, you’re doing the same for him.) How’s that for fucking irony?

Wilson: Well, I love that the 16 Horsepower record is more violent and gory than the band that was actually coming out of the Florida death metal scene. You know, consider the song “Neck on the New Blade” or the “Strong Man,” where he says, ‘get a rope and make it quick.’ I kind of think it’s funny to juxtapose these two records in the sense that like, the ‘fire and brimstone’ is actually, genuinely scary, as opposed to something like a Cannibal Corpse record, which is gory but almost cartoonish.

FH: Cartoonish; definitely. What’s kind of chilling to me is that “The Strong Man,” is basically a religious revenge fantasy, which isn’t exactly uncommon, you know. ‘End of days’ prophecies where people will be begging for mercy and it won’t be given to them….

Wilson: ‘Religious revenge fantasy.’ I’ve never actually heard it put like that. That’s kind of awesome. Like, Brimstone porn!

FH: Brimstone porn! Nailed it! That’s our genre, pal; let’s invest our savings into that! But to continue my train of thought, what’s interesting to me about the narrative in this song is, (consider the gist of the lyrics) the ‘strong man’s’ going to be the last one to confess the truth of the Christian god and there must be no pity for him; we have to slaughter him where he stands. Again, ‘grab a rope and make it quick.’ Well, I grew up in the deep South -like the motherfucking heart of Dixie- and in addition to a huge Evangelical social order, there was a sizeable ‘white power’ scene there as well, (probably more so when I was a kid… I like to think its dwindled down by this point.) There was a lot of this fantasy going on that I’d occasionally catch whispers of: how this ‘Day of Reckoning’ was coming; this day is percolating where all the ‘enemies’ will be kneeling in the streets. You’re going to be saving bullets by hanging folks instead of shooting them and it was all meant to be taken literally and this song takes me back there because it was so very, very similar to the sentiment expressed in these lyrics. Grisly, dude.

The song closes with the lines, “There’s power in the blood of the Lamb.” It really stresses the inherent violence of this religion but also the paradox of the necessity of innocence with the need to literally bleed it in order to be cleansed. Yin and Yang/Cain and Abel. Man, the brochures make Christianity seem like they just want to give Tetanus shots to kids in Tanzania or something but it just doesn’t seem all that innocuous when you deep-dive into the fine-print, you know?

Wilson: Yeah. Just to tie it back to myself, I’d been joking around with one of the members of my other band John Frum, talking about how I kind of wanted to make our debut, [A Stirring in the Noos] really psychedelic. And now I’ve been thinking about, like… how do we kind of flip that idea on its head? How do we take an actual leap going forward?

Cynic’s Focus record has been an inspiration in the sense of like, (and I don’t write the lyrics for John Frum and I’m not sure what the vocalist would have to say about this idea) but instead of making a death metal record, I kind of want to make a ‘birth metal’ record because—at least from the point of view of the literature that I’ve been reading and digesting—it seems like it’s not the dying that’s the tricky part, it’s being reborn and having to do everything all over again. Going through the pain of birth and this endless life-cycle without ever escaping that flaming wheel of disease, demise and resurgence. Does that make any sense? Because I almost feel like Cynic created the first ‘birth metal’ record and I’d really like to expand on that.

FH: Wow. I don’t know if that tag’s gonna catch on though; it’s maybe too heavy. Also, a flaming wheel is literally an uroboric form… just to tie things back.

Wilson: Yeah, well I’m really just riffing on the concept. Like, Focus was one of the first death metal records I ever heard that wasn’t constantly talking about death in the same way that everything else was. It’s more of a confrontation with the process of death. Most people don’t actually address that phase of life or that there may be life after death. Instead, they just zero in on the moment of death and the gore, or the fear of death or else they’re just obsessing over the concept of dying. Focus was death metal that was talking about death from a completely different point of view.

FH: I know what you mean. Like we’re finally hearing the statements of a public defender instead of just the prosecutor. We frequently describe death as a door and Jesus has described himself as a door. Essentially, we’re talking about portals allowing us passage into other states of consciousness and it’s not that different—when you break that down—to a portal leading away from this physical, corporeal body into the next phase. But 16 Horsepower’s flavor of Christianity..  Calvinism is a very pin-holed viewpoint of a Christian -much less a human- experience. It’s a double bind really because it’s basically saying only a few people are going to be saved and they’ve already been pre-selected. And amongst those, they can still fuck up, you know? Those preordained still have to make the exact right choices. And then on top of that, (and here is that double-bind I mentioned,) there’s no free-will in Calvinism; it’s all predestined! So you’re ‘chosen’ but you can still break the contract, (even unintentionally) and yet, (may I remind you) there’s no free-will so you must follow this preordained path even if that means that you forfeit your salvation in the process and… man, I don’t get it. It makes zero sense to me. I’m sure there are plenty of books written on the subject that could enlighten me. David Eugene Edwards was apparently writing from that standpoint, and it seems like a very, very difficult place to be in. Almost unnavigable.

Also, I feel like there’s a lot of vicarious living in these lyrics; he’s always singing to this ‘girl.’ That’s his audience. ‘I seen you walkin’ and your white hips sway/ O girl I will have you no more.’ The ‘girl’ keeps popping up in these songs. There are loads of allusions to temptation. I think it’s kind of fascinating. And again, it seems like a very difficult way to live.

Wilson: Or is it autobiographical?

FH: Huh. I don’t know. What do you think?

Wilson: Well, it’s hard to say because… Look, I don’t think that the guy’s a saint; I’m not saying that. Maybe by my standards the guy’s pretty much a saint, but like, I know he likes his whiskey.

FH: Does he drink? Because the Church of the Nazarene doesn’t allow you to but he does make that reference, “come to my porch/I got whiskey.” I was intrigued by that.

Wilson: I’m pretty sure. A friend of mine plays in his band… I think he keeps whiskey on the rider. I’m definitely not trying to call him out or anything. You know, Stryper recently posted a photo where they were smoking cigars and they were utterly crucified; it’s just so fucking pathetic. So—without further elaboration but for the sake of conversation—I don’t think the guy’s a total purist. Maybe it’s a bit of self-flagellating rhetoric. You know, like, ‘I know I’m a sinner,’ point of view. And then too, maybe when he wrote Sackcloth and Ashes he was a bit more dogmatic and 20 years on in the business that wagon-wheel started to wobble a bit.

FH: That’s a good point. We’re talking about who David Eugene Edwards is and balancing that against a record that’s been out since what, 1996? He was describing Sackcloth and Ashes on the documentary, and he says at one point that he views the debut as a very selfish, very self-centered album and he feels like the following albums were much more inclusive, (partially because at that point he’d become a father and his life had changed radically but also by just allowing other band members to actually contribute material.) So, you know, we’re judging him against an album that he would say is sort of the black sheep of the discography.

Beat the Drum Slowly Play the Fife Lowly

FH: You’ve wanted to cover “Strong Man” for a long time. I think that’s a really interesting proposition. How would you approach It? What would you change?

Wilson: I probably wouldn’t change it all that much. I think I’d just make it into something more of a slower, metal dirge. I mean, the piece is so simple that I don’t know that changing it would really do all that much. You know, maybe the ‘quote/unquote’ country rhythm at the end where it kind of picks up…maybe I’d alter that and give it more of an Azusa-like double bass part. I think David (Husvik) of Azusa and Extol has a really tasteful way of using double bass where it doesn’t sound pummeling so much as it just sounds driving, you know? It’s not like some kind of an athletic, Olympic sport blast-beat kind of thing so much as it’s just an expression of a given song within that moment; it’s just a natural conclusion. But otherwise, I wouldn’t do much to it. I mean, I can’t even imagine “Strong Man” with death metal vocals! I’d basically take it the way it is. … I don’t know, I just feel like it could go even darker, deeper and even more evil, (and I find that song to be pretty dark and evil already.) I see similar potential in something like Slayer’s “Spill the Blood.” For whatever reason I find “Spill the Blood” to be one of the most haunting metal songs ever written. Tom Araya’s basically just narrating; it’s just this kind of monotone recitation, (he sounds almost hypnotized.) I can imagine that kind of delivery for “Strong Man.” Less preachy but more hypnotic.

FH: That makes total sense. I was very curious—especially the first time I listened to it knowing that you’d mentioned that song was something that you really wanted to try your hand at. I was trying to reconcile my idea of what you might do knowing what you have done. Do you remember when Tori Amos did that cover of “Raining Blood”?

Wilson: I do.

FH: Man! I was so intrigued and then so fucking let down.

Wilson: Really? I loved it! I mean, I’m not gonna say that I think it’s better. I don’t even necessarily think I’d ever listen to it again, but I loved the bravery of it. I enjoyed the fact she went there. It’s not necessarily a good cover but I appreciate that she did it and I liked that it was her. Tori Amos kind of taps into this similar duality in that she’s kind of saying, ‘Hey, I’m a choir girl but I’m also upstairs masturbating in church.’ You know?


Wilson: You know what I mean?

FH: Sorry. God… I was just trying to picture the church I grew up attending and wondering where exactly in it I’d go to bang one out.

Wilson: Well, I think that she would talk about hiding in the choir loft, masturbating. So I think that her owning that character, like, ‘Hey, I’m a sinner,’ and then covering “Raining Blood,” …I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition.

FH: No, I did, too! I came at it as a Tori Amos fan. I absolutely stand by those first three records; I think they’re magnificent. I didn’t really care for anything else after that but whatever, it’s her career; she should take it wherever she likes, right? So I was excited that she was going to reinterpret a Slayer track. Where I felt let down is that she didn’t really break “Raining Blood” down compositionally or reinterpret it into her own style or anything, really. She just seemed to lay her elbows on the piano keys, mumble the lyrics and call it a day. That’s what bummed me out. I was really invested in seeing how she would interpret those harmonic phrases.

Wilson: Yeah, I can see that. It was a little bit of a cop out; I agree with you. It’s a bit sticky but I think that you kind of have to see it as a performance-art piece. I mean, we know she shreds. We know she’s a great songwriter… No, it won’t go down in the history of great covers but I do remember hearing it and thinking, ‘well that was unexpected!’ Now, what would be even crazier would be if Slayer covered Tori Amos, (but god knows that that will never happen.)

 FH: Well, especially not now. You know, “Raining Blood” and “Strong Man” have a kind of correlative quality, (conceptually, I mean.) You could weave in some of Slayer’s lyrics, (“awaiting the hour of reprisal/your time slips away”) into “Strong Man.” I don’t think that David Eugene Edwards would take issue with much of that imagery which is kind of funny, right? I wouldn’t mind seeing 16 Horsepower cover “Raining Blood” and just redirect those lyrics a touch more directly towards Old Testament mores.

Wilson: Well, they haven’t done Slayer but 16 Horsepower have done some interesting covers. They covered Joy Division for example. They have good taste. For instance, (it’s not a cover,) but have you checked out the “Black Soul Choir” video?

FH: I haven’t watched the video but I know they worked with The Brothers Quay for that one. I used to be a massive Brothers Quay fan.

Wilson: It’s not that it’s an amazing video but the fact that 16 Horsepower went to The Brothers Quay to execute their artistic vision just says, ‘alright, you have good taste. You’re dialed in. You’re tying together things that I’m already into.’ You know, I suspect that if Cynic’s Focus album cover was stupid or shoddy looking, I probably wouldn’t be into it. In the same way, Sackcloth N’ Ashes cover art is pretty bold and it dovetails well with the lyrics and the imagery. Something like them using The Brothers Quay was another indicator of where their heads were at. It got me paying even closer attention.

FH: Nice. So, after all these years, what would be your elevator pitch for Sackcloth N’ Ashes to the cautiously intrigued and how do you relate to it now?

 Wilson: I think it’s just an authentic, modern country record. Rebel country. In a sense, this record was able to get me to relate to country music. I think it’s also a purely American record; like everything about it. If this record had come out from some outfit in, say, Germany I’d insist that they were faking it. But this record isn’t fake. There’s this honesty about it, (even if it is the black sheep of their catalog, as you suggested.)

I guess my elevator pitch is that it’s the most metal record I know of—beloved by me and so many of my metal friends—that’s not a metal record. It is, (in some senses) heavier and darker than most metal records but couldn’t be any less metal in terms of its instrumentation. There’s not a second of distorted guitar on the thing and I don’t think it gets any higher than say 120BPMs. Maybe some of it’s a bit hokey in that ‘yeehaw country’ way but maybe it needs that release because so much of it’s incredibly bleak. It’s one of those records that just got me. It found me in the right time and place and it hooked me.

As we talked about—growing up with a theologically Roman Catholic stained point of view- the lyrics spoke to me. They went into those familiar places but didn’t shy away from putting a really negative spin on it. I’ll say it again: contrasted with a death metal record, it’s almost worse and is probably even more evil and bloodstained. It’s less of a fantasy. Like, I seriously doubt that Cannibal Corpse really believes in what they’re talking about and I’ve never really thought that Suffocation was about to go murder anybody but David Eugene Edwards… I genuinely think that that dude could go there.

FH: And do you think that that’s a quality that makes Sackcloth N’ Ashes attractive to you in a way that a more banal Christian record with a very similar message but, (let’s say) more confectioner’s sugar sprinkled on top to disguise its awful message is not?

Wilson: Yeah. And it’s also helpful to know something about his upbringing. For example, the Extol dudes grew up Pentecostal in the most Christian nation on the planet outside of maybe America. Pretty much everyone in Norway is Christian. And especially coming from where

they’re coming from and playing extreme metal… Extol were all but crucified for doing it. They really suffered for their art! Whereas, over here we were like, ‘these guys play metal and—whatever—they happen to be Christian,’ over there they were Christian and had the audacity to play metal and ‘how could they!’ you know? So with 16 Horsepower and David coming from where he’s coming from and singing what he’s singing… to me it’s not as much of a leap. But I think from his perspective it’s a serious leap. Cynic too! Coming out of the Florida death metal scene it was an act of real bravery to not just be another cookie cut-out. That’s the sort of thing that catches my attention. Such honesty and fucking courage.

‘Pon My Honor

Okay, I don’t want to entirely lose sight of the initial objective that triggered this exploration. My first and foremost aim was to nudge a well-deserved spotlight directly onto Azusa—a band that invariably spikes my adrenaline, my dopamine (hell, maybe my estrogen?) well beyond beneficial levels. But now that it’s time for ‘last call’ it’s only fair to admit the obvious: I face-planted/ate shit/under-achieved n’ over-aggrieved in this particular respect. The guest of honor received precious little attention at their own soiree. The obvious diagnosis is that I simply had too much fun shooting all that shite with Liam to herd the conversation towards its stated goal. Rather, I allowed the breeze to carry the proverbial confetti where it may, (despite the fact that the actual party lay upwind.) So yeah, I’ll admit to feeling a touch hoisted by my own pseudo-journalistic petard while also being immensely grateful to have been part of a back-and-forth with a fascinating musician the kind of which you won’t find captured in any other rag, mag, periodical or otherwise. It’s certainly pointless to cry about the piece’s shortcomings now—that milk’s long been spilled and sponged up. So fuck it; I’m the sole yeoman of this weird-ass column and it’d be truly wicked not to rejoice in the weird-ass fruit that it produces. I had a wonderful time, thank you. As for yourself, I hope you’ve had a fine time as well and I implore you to check out Azusa post haste if’n you haven’t done so already. C’mon; don’t be a schmuck. It’ll do you good.

We’ll lock up the shop for good following a valedictory conversation with Paul Masvidal but for now, I’ll let Liam lead us out of this here prayer circle with a final benediction:

“I won’t go so far as to say that I’ve had a spiritual awakening but between years of psychedelic experiences, lots of ego death, The Dillinger Escape Plan having a bus accident… just all of these close calls and even, (for lack of a better word,) mystical experiences I’ve come to a certain peak in my life to look down on everything from and all of it man…it just all looks different right now. That’s a good thing. And sure, I can still be an asshole sometimes, but I’ve ultimately come to the conclusion that I’m happiest and I feel most connected to my Dharma when I’m at service; when I’m giving to other people—whether that’s simply parenting my kid or just serving God in whatever way that comes out. I just don’t think I’ve ever been this happy and content.”


“I guess I am trying to get the point across that all of us are in need of salvation; that we are dead in our spirits and minds and need the grace that has been offered -no matter how good we think we are.” —David Eugene Edwards

 ‘The genius embedded in theological hegemony is that even though those living beneath its glass dome can choose to reject the theology itself whole-cloth, they must allow that theological device to set the terms of that rejection. In doing so, the individual is poised to sacrifice some part of themselves. They must announce who they are by stepping back into the specter of what they are not. And since that specter is everywhere, the individual is always in danger of being engulfed by it. We broker for our identity with an entity we either foreswear or disbelieve in entirely. It’s a very neat trick.’ —Forrest Pitts (correspondence with a friend)

The post Fallow Heart: THE ORIGIN OF LIFE: Tall Tales of Creation Part lIl (Fit for a Pine Overcoat) appeared first on Decibel Magazine.


Track Premiere: Mayan Bull (ft. members of Trappist & Despise You) “Kid Cleveland”

It’s not often that a band forms after being offered an opportunity to write music for a film, but that’s exactly what happened with L.A.’s Mayan Bull. Back in 2011, drummer/keyboardist Phil Vera (Trappist, Despise You), guitarist Kurk Stevens and bassist Chris Walters were approached by director Todd Hickey to write a song for the soundtrack of Takedowns and Falls, his documentary about high-school wrestling in Pennsylvania. The trio recorded 10-minute instrumental “A Dangerous Gun” in Vera’s living room with producer Paul Fig (Alice In Chains, Deftones), and Mayan Bull was born. “We had so much fun recording the song that we kept practicing and came up with new songs,” Vera says.

One of those songs is “Kid Cleveland,” which we’re premiering here today. The propulsive track is all the more impressive given that instrumental music is a distinct departure for the members of Mayan Bull. Stevens plays in the noise rock band Kevarra, Walters plays shoegaze in The Slow Signal Fades and Vera plays an entirely different instrument—guitar—in L.A. powerviolence kings Despise You and Crom. “We discussed Mayan Bull as being a project that we could do for decades to come, something that isn’t pinned down to any particular genre of music but will grow over time,” Stevens says. “We want people to hear us and watch this project evolve.”

Mayan Bull by Mayan Bull

The post Track Premiere: Mayan Bull (ft. members of Trappist & Despise You) “Kid Cleveland” appeared first on Decibel Magazine.


Album Review: Cannibal Corpse – ‘Violence Unimagined’

Ru-tan clan ain’t nuthing ta fuck wit

I won’t squander your time by belaboring the obvious point that Cannibal Corpse are gonna Cannibal Corpse. You know exactly what they’re peddling just as surely as you know what to expect from an issue of Hustler. There’s going to be grinding galore and body parts strewn everywhere. Even the recent loss of Pat O’Brien (which could be reasonably interpreted as an earth-sundering development) is ameliorated in the most predictable fashion by insinuating longtime producer and aide-de-camp Erik Rutan into the slot. What should be an impassable dilemma becomes more akin to Indiana Jones versus that swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark: easily resolved, barely an inconvenience.

There is subtle, prudent progression here from 2017’s Red Before Black. The slight tectonic drifts in rhythm guitar, drum patterns and melodic counterpoint drive the album forward in a weird corkscrewing gait. Notably, some of the record’s most interesting passages lie in those motifs established just beneath the solos and/or primary riffs. Unfortunately, a few slipshod arrangements create a bit of unwanted drag, and I strongly feel that the album is roughly one track too long. However, when Corpsegrinder howls the word “contagion” on “Condemnation Contagion,” it sounds an awful lot like “po-ta-to!!!” So, there’s your silver lining.

The overall richness of this release is stunning, be it the staircasing whorl of “Slowly Sawn,” the weird spatial patterns of what should’ve been the album closer, “Overtorture,” the thematic red herring of “Follow the Blood” or the fact that the latter’s lead at 3:03 evokes—against all fucking odds—Crimson Glory’s Transcendence. Hell, the sadistic luster of “Necrogenic Resurrection” alone is enough to bump this record up to a 7, easy.

No need to leave that violence unimagined, perverts. Put on some rubber gloves and dig in.

Get the EXCLUSIVE Coke Bottle Swamp Green vinyl pressing (limited to 300 copies worldwide) of “Violence Unimagined here

The post Album Review: Cannibal Corpse – ‘Violence Unimagined’ appeared first on Decibel Magazine.


Fallow Heart: The Uncertainty Principle, A Biased Observation of Steve Austin, Part 2


“I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished
and the stars
did wander…”
—Darkness, Lord Byron

It’s written that the prophet Muhammad wore a silver ring set with agate and carnelian to commemorate the removal of idols from the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Ancient Romans powdered agate and mixed it with water to counteract the effects of snake and scorpion venom. And what is agate? It’s just a mineral really; part of a family of semi-precious gems that are produced in volcanos by silica dense cave-water gradually draining into the rock’s perforations. The layers of silicate condense into crystals whose color can change over time dependent upon variations in temperature, pressure and various soluble components leaching into it as it develops. Voila, my friend. It’s just a mineral all in all, but one that happens to have been ceremonially woven into the clothes of Babylonian prophets and has been used for centuries in the production of precision pendulums helping sleuths to calculate gravity, locate water and talk to with the dead. Now, if you were to guess, which of agate’s aspects was it that inspired Steve Austin to label the eighth track on his No Good to Anyone album after it? Care to put money on it?

“A lot of the song titles on No Good to Anyone are just little snapshots of moments around here,” shrugs Steve before sharing a simple anecdote that threatens to read as thoroughly banal to the average ear. “During the recording of the album my son Willie turned fifteen so you know, he’s got driving on his mind. We’d been talking about getting another car and this one day he says, ‘Hey Dad, you used to have a Suzuki Samurai before; would you want to get another Jeep?’ This was before the surgeries and this was also in this period where I was just trying to make everyone happy after all that we’d been through so I said sure. And it was funny because the jeep turned into a kind of a crusade for the two of us. Willie and I ended up finding one but we got duped by the guy that sold it to us; it had a ton of different problems. But because of that it kind of turned it into a project where Willie wanted to work on the jeep and he wanted to learn about car repair and so as a father/son thing, we started fixing it up, bit by bit.”

As a father myself I can envisage this scene bathed in all its placid, golden-hour simplicity, like gazing into the parti-colored pool of a Thomas Cole landscape. And where does the song title fit in? “When we were looking for new interior there was this color that was almost black but not quite… It was called ‘agate.’ Agate,” he repeats, rolling the word gingerly like a cigarette. “It’s just a sound that when I say it represents this memory of me and Willie working on the jeep, just trying to get it ready to use.”

What comes to your mind when you think of Steve Austin? You ever fancied him in a setting so rosewater-y paternal? Probably not, right? You’ve most likely painted him into a triptych with panels titled “Maggots and Riots,” “Babies Born Without Lungs” and “The Man Who Loves to Hurt Himself.” It’s just too simple for this kind of figure to become channeled into a qualifactory corset by the collective whims and biases of fans and scriveners like you or I and—taken solely as a soundscape—“Agate” might gratify that predilection. It’s a foreboding collage suggestive of a cardiac event recorder blurting out its final, dying signal. Utterly at variance with the suggestion of amber-hued afternoons spent replacing axel shaft seals and PVC valves with your son.

“[The loop] was made by my friend Marc Ablasou who plays in a band called LAE, (we made a record a couple of years back.) He’s really great at creating this stuff. When I first listened to this one, I was thinking about the machine-like monotony of my life,” Steve offers. “It’s droning. It revolves around this one sound that’s a heart monitor. So, when it stops, the beat stops along with it. There’s this pause and then finally, there’s another one. BEEP,” he chirps. “That’s the nightmare; it’s like the machine is cycling along until all of a sudden… it just stops. The song’s just a fragmented, abstract thing, just me fixating on a frightful moment. What would it be like if all of a sudden it just stopped?”

And there it is: the wedding of the word ‘agate’ to this weird sonic backdrop breathes consequence into the piece. That whisper of nostalgia adjacent to cold suggestions of an intensive care unit provide it necessary bite. We’re apathetic when it comes to caricatures of death—especially in extreme music; we’ve been groomed to be indifferent. That might be partially due to the fact that these depictions rarely trouble themselves with details regarding the length and breadth of experience that the dying are obligated to forfeit in their departure. Yet nestled within our attachments to these memories awaits genuine horror and ghastly torment. That’s the scary shit and this is the pith of this brief instrumental track: genuine horror. And the funny thing about it is that its audience would never fathom this layer of relevance by simply engaging it as a piece of music. “Agate’s” implications are intended solely for Steve Austin; precisely what I meant in the intro to part one of this story, regarding landmarks scattered about the record leading rearwards into time.

Souvenir’s a good word,” he suggests thoughtfully, almost beneath his breath. “This is an audio souvenir.”


“I don’t want to go down the road of other bands, (even one’s that I super respect like Iron Maiden or AC/DC) you know, where the structures of the songs remain in the same exact vein or format. We’re in a new day,” he emphasizes. “This is a new age!” Steve exhales ponderously as if forecasting a spasm of full body revelation. “When you think about [the year] 2020, isn’t it just fucking mind-blowing!? It is to me. I was eight years old in 1976. In the ’70s, if someone were to start talking about 2020 it would have felt like they were talking about the Cro-Magnon period thousands of years ago because it would’ve seemed equally out of reach. And now, here we are.”

I’ll agree that the number 2020 feels especially pivotal, like a pregnancy trawling late into its conclusive trimester, (perhaps it’s those two ominously gravid zeros.) But just for a bit of perspective consider all the collective lunges into impossible futurism that we’ve already experienced in the recent past. Since we’ve mentioned pregnancy for example, in 1996, scientists operating out of Scotland’s Roslin Institute were able to successfully edit the DNA of a single mammary cell taken from a Finn Dorset sheep which was then injected into an unfertilized egg and fostered to term. The resulting animal was christened Dolly, a sheep who for six years lived out a fairly conventional—however un-customarily public—life. She even gave birth to lambs of her own, (sired by a Welsh mountain ram named David) but I’ll stop with the frippery and incidentals here to emphasize what should be an earth shattering fact: this team of clinicians were able to successfully recode a single udder cell so that it contained within it the raw instructions to make an entire sheep, stem to stern. This would be like extracting a rivet from a fuselage and making a light passenger-jet out of it. Like god creating Eve from one of Adam’s ribs, but really for real this time. What exactly does this mean for us? Why didn’t we all call in sick to work and just scream into a paper bag for an afternoon upon reception of this potentially dreadful miracle’s announcement?

“Out of chaos God formed substance, making what is not into what is.” The Essential Kabbalah, Daniel C. Matt

In March of 2000—when Steve would have been about 32—the fruit fly’s entire genome had been deciphered down to each cell’s 13,601 individual genes. Not only that but astrophysicists determined that dark energy is compelling the immeasurable expansion of the universe to quicken dramatically, which will ultimately upend the laws of physics and drown life as we know it deep within the silence of an indifferent eternity. But who cares? That exact same year saw the release of the Creative Nomad Jukebox MP3 player which had the capacity to carry roughly 1,400 songs within a device about the size of a Croissan’wich, (a technological marvel in its own right.) Unimpressed? Well, that’s just the glib insouciance of hindsight talking, dummy; it was amazing! Twenty years on and MP3 players are quaint, seasonal cycles of methane and oxygen have been documented on Mars and human embryos have been genetically modified to make the resulting fetuses resistant to HIV. All that while Croissan’wich technology lies shamefully dormant and Brian Adams manages to cling to the airwaves like peanut butter to the roof of your sorry old mouth.

“Man, I hate my fucking car radio because it refuses to stop playing Brian Adams,” announces Steve. “And if it’s not that then it won’t stop playing fucking Lynyrd Skynyrd or whatever other bullshit that was made forty years ago. And so I say to all the other artists of planet Earth: forget the past! Step out, take a chance, write something new. Prove to people that we’ve evolved as a civilization since 1950, 1970, 1980.

“Let me tell ya something,” he drawls, his agitation inching, (almost indifferently) towards escape velocity, “we don’t need to reboot Slayer anymore! Sorry man; we don’t. And we don’t need to role-play anymore Pantera shit either. No more of this ‘We’re the most brutal guys in the world; we smoke more weed than you; we drink all the alcohol…’ I just think that all these cliches have been going on for 70 years—essentially since the 1950s—and now we’re in a new day and age where if we all could just stop fretting over imaginary shit, we could take a step back and say, ‘What year is it again? Oh right, it’s 2020; cool. So, what am I doing artistically that’s representative of the year I live in? What am I doing that’s different, that hasn’t been done prior to this space and time?’

“I feel like I live in a world where if I turn on my TV, it’s showing me stuff from the 1970s and ’80s. Everything is some fucking remake. I don’t think these young bands get enough credit and I don’t think they get the platform to be able to do these kind of things anymore. It’s 2020 and I have to hear .38 Special on the radio again? Really? Really?!! Art reflects society and when the art is just showing you reruns… I don’t know. We need to be sticking bands on the front of magazines who are fucking 20-year-olds that may be stuck in a basement and hate their parents but they want to do something new and they don’t want to fit in! They want to make music that’s totally different. I think that we all could stand to take a step back for a minute and really think about what we’re doing.”

“The century of airplanes has a right to its own music.” —Claude Debussy


[Whereby we change the subject]

“I like really inventive films. I feel like if I hadn’t ended up doing what I do and if I had another replay on my life and someone said you can do whatever you want to do other than music, anything else, it would have been scriptwriter or film-maker. Stanley Kubrick, Atom Egoyan, Darren Aronofsky… you know those are my artistic heroes these days, meaning that if someone asked me about artists—like what moves me—you’re gonna get more responses related to film than to music because I feel like it’s an area where extreme creativity is still a thing. I feel like the whole time I’ve been making these records, I’ve been trying to do an audio version of something akin to a work by Lynch or Tarantino and it lends an element of, I guess, performance art to some of these songs.

“Take a stress Pill” —Hal, 2001: A Space Odyssey

“You know, I think Stanley Kubrick parallels a lot of Today is the Day’s output in this way: Kubrick was not a horror filmmaker but he made horror films. He wasn’t a science-fiction film-maker but he made science-fiction films. You can tell by the sequence of the movies that he chose to make that there was no correlation between them other than the overall signature of their artistry. Stanley Kubrick seemed to be a person who was dissatisfied with ever doing the same trick twice. For him, the variety, the difference of each of his films from one another seems to have been the fuel for him to continue. The dude was truly touching on different forms of human existence and matters that relate to the inner self. And luckily for all of us, the stories he told are all different from each other and they all suggest different conclusions. In a lot of ways, I feel like Today is the Day albums are kind of like that.”

There’s an incidental detail in The Shining that I’ve always liked regarding the famous aphorism ‘All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy.’ The line’s reveal is crucial and obviously Kubrick intended for the scene to play equally well in international markets but decided that simply translating the phrase word-for-word into other languages would most likely result in something without any intrinsic cultural relevance and was therefore more probable to induce mild puzzlement as opposed to dread. He determined that the feeling would best be preserved by plumbing the desired languages, (Italian, German, French and Spanish) for axioms that correlated to the spirit of the original phrase as opposed to opting for its slavish translation into them as most people would have done. At a glance the phrases he selected may appear to bear little relation to the original expression, their source code. But—at least within Kubrick’s mind—they could not be more intimately bound. How alike to the inconstant forks of a genetic line, quietly wheeling around the eddy of their genesis? Of course, when it comes to our genes, modern genetics undeniably reveals that a) their sole aim is to multiply themselves rather than to enhance, develop or secure their host in anyway, and b) if anything, we labor in service to them, not the other way around. We’re essentially their uniform; they wear us.

In a similar way, Steve Austin primarily appears to labor in service of the act of creation itself while being driven by a parallel intensity to interrupt any overt suggestions of a pattern within the body of his work. Perhaps Today is the Day is the actual managing director and Steve’s merely its long suffering secretary.

“I’ll be perfectly honest, in the process of making this album, it was nothing but pure, absolute survival,” he exhales ruefully. “How do I describe it? Like, if you took a person and you Hulk-style slammed them to the ground, shattered several bones of their body and then basically ordered them, ‘Hey, make a painting for me right now and whatever it is you create, I want you to do it from the heart.’ Well, presuming that person paints the painting it’s obviously going to take a lot longer to make, it’s going to be a lot harder to do and the themes that are going to be in that painting are going revolve around shock and anguish because the artist is in a fractured condition. They’re fucked up. Hell, I’ll admit it: I was fucked up! Like ‘can’t hardly do anything’ fucked up.”

When holding a guitar pick becomes an excruciating feat and your very physiological house is burning down around you, does the activity of composing and recording an album sound remotely biocompatible or even rational? Absolutely fucking not. And yet Steve Austin’s unquenchable fealty to the exercise is deeply—however paradoxically—life affirming. After all, isn’t agony and disbursed platelets totally on brand with terrestrial birth?

“Ultimately the idea has always been to expand consciousness, to broaden my own self-realization and to try to give people the empowerment that comes from listening to other fucked up individuals that are like themselves and are likely pitted against the same kind of obstacles as they are. They can drop into this and go, ‘Hey, Steve’s being real here. I can connect with Today is the Day because he’s not worried about being the cool guy or the brutal guy or whatever. He’s just himself with his ugly fucking teeth and his weird fucking face and his weird band.’ I hope for them that the bottom line is that they don’t feel like Today is the Day is trying to ransack their goddamned pockets using sing-along-songs.’”


The distillate of what we are, (or what we think we are,) is an almost unfathomable thing to surrender. In the wake of Today is the Day’s bus accident in 2014, Steve Austin appeared to be shackled to calamities which ruthlessly sheared away fundamental layers of his identity. Imagine having every precious qualifier and touchstone that you recognize yourself by peeled back in one go until at least even your own face in the mirror has been warped into unrecognizable shapes. Imagine trying to make sense of what’s left. What does it really even mean to be you?

Within the cannon of ancient Mesopotamian gods, Ishtar was among the most powerful and arguably the most culturally influential. She was the goddess of love and war, referred to in The Book of Jeremiah as the ‘Queen of Heaven,’ the forerunner of Aphrodite, Venus, Astarte and Artemis, (and—by some accounts—the tradition of Easter) and is the first known deity for which we have written authentication. That being said, most of her qualities, holy enterprises and temper tantrums, (along with those of her peers like the more familiar sounding Marduk and Nergal) were lost as cuneiform writing lapsed into antiquity around 400 CE.

In one of the few surviving stories, Ishtar must descend to the underworld to retrieve her recently murdered lover, the Shepherd King, Dumuzi. When she’s confronted by the gatekeeper, she threatens to splinter the doors and allow the dead to escape and feast on the living if she’s not allowed access. So, he ushers her through the first of seven gates which lead to an audience with the queen of the dead but removes an item of her clothing as a toll for each one she crosses until finally she arrives naked to the throne room. In a contemporary retelling of the myth, these items are veils, each one representing a stratum of her identity. When she confronts the queen in this version, she’s informed that in order to retrieve her lover, Ishtar must surrender her last veil. That veil is her body. She must fully commit to the sacrifice of her identity in order to attain the object of her desire.

We accumulate multiple layers of identity as we flounder through our human experience like coats of paint blanketing an old kitchenette. They become our polestars; we have a weird tendency to defer to their spurious guidance. (By the way, I have a theory that the ghosts of this world are simply these old coats of identity, still animated by the mulishness of their tempers but divested of a functional physical costume.) Simply uninstalling these programs at will is so arduous and so painful that we hardly stop to consider it, it must be an operation that happens to us via death or traumatic happenstance—as in the case of Steve Austin. Only a goddess such as Ishtar could undertake this kind of labor so capably. Perhaps this is why those old agate-decorated prophets were so wild eyed for their muse, (or maybe they were just in it for the ‘sacred prostitution’ angle, I don’t know.) The paradox is that beneath these many sheets of subterfuge dozes god—or at least a pixel native to its sacred countenance. Those layers of identity that obscure this sleeping god are simply distortions and that’s entirely okay; it’s intentional. It’s similar to the distortion of light as it passes through a stained glass window; marvelous in its way even as it inhibits the actual substance of the rays that animate it. We are by design a form of inhibited divinity.

I do have just a couple of Steve Austin related anecdotes that I wanted to share with you before I finally gutter the lamppost on The Uncertainty Principle series (read Part I here). I’ll meet you at the shoreline of part three for your conclusory debriefing.

“I had a dream, which was not all a dream…
The palaces of crowned kings -the huts,
the habitations of all things which dwell,
were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,
and men gathered round their blazing homes
to look once more into each other’s face.”
—Darkness, Lord Byron

“But now a great thing in the street
Seems any human nod,
Where shift in strange democracy
The million masks of God.”
—Gold Leaves, G. K. Chesterton

“From dream to dream we have always been like an ever flowing stream.” —“In Death’s Sleep”, Dismember

The post Fallow Heart: The Uncertainty Principle, A Biased Observation of Steve Austin, Part 2 appeared first on Decibel Magazine.


Fallow Heart: The Uncertainty Principle, A Biased Observation of Steve Austin, Part 1


I was talking music with a co-worker of mine recently. She’s a Juilliard trained classical pianist with an extracurricular taste for light jazz, neo-soul, trip hop, (coffee shop music essentially, you’ve heard this stuff.) We chatted about the ‘Franks’ we both dig (meaning Lizt, Poulenc and—thinking we were very clever—bebop saxophonist Frank Morgan,) for a few and the peculiar mindset of career, classical musicians until she suddenly pulled the colloquial railroad switch with an exasperated punch in my shoulder. She’d always known me as ‘the metal guy.’ Why hadn’t we had this conversation before? Why hadn’t I expressed to her how broad my musical appreciation was before now and what even was it with me and metal in the first place? She was genuinely puzzled by what she interpreted as my deeply incompatible artistic biases. Isn’t metal essentially a mausoleum for adolescent fantasy? Isn’t the bulk of it just pompous onanism or knuckle-dragging chauvinism or both? How could that form the framework of my listening diet which also included so many sequences of music that she understood to be qualitatively good? She couldn’t square it.

Barring the elbow room right then and there to make my case via a few selections of what I deem ‘gateway metal,’ (specific passages by Opeth, Intronaut and Enslaved have always pretty effectively done the trick for me,) I preached on the tremendous liberty the genre exudes; the unparalleled elasticity that functions as the flex to keep the old pillar so resilient. Consider any melodic discipline or artistic value, I promise that it can be adequately rephrased if not directly woven into metal’s fabric; it has a knack for stylistic reconciliation. And anyway, classical music’s riddled with quixotic and arguably puerile themes, (hell, one of its most basic forms is called fantasia,) and Lizt—for one—could be almost barbarically aggressive, you kidding me? (That’s a slight overstatement—Lizt was no Bartók—but whatever, I had her; or at the very least she was swayed.)

That evening as we waited for our ride to collect their things and say their goodbyes to the staff she rounded on me. “Hey, play me something. I’m interested in hearing some of this stuff from your point of view.” Completely unprepared, ladies and gentlemen. My mind had been entirely occupied with calculating how many hours of sleep I could reasonably expect before I had to hoist my—in all likelihood howling—son from his bed in the morning in order to prep him for school. Shit.

“Um, sure. Give me a second,” I hedged, scrolling quickly through the library of albums on my phone for a worthy specimen.

“Don’t sanitize it for me,” she protested. “Just play me the last thing you were listening to.” And with my phone quickly wrestled from out my hand she pointed to the play button at the bottom of the screen. “Today Is the Day; are they metal? They sound kind of like an ‘80’s straightedge band.”

“No, they’re metal. Tangentially, I mean.” Fresh off the heels of reviewing the band’s No Good to Anyone release I’d been revisiting Today is the Day’s back catalogue incessantly for the past week. The album I’d been occupying myself with on the drive up to the event was Willpower, a record that is—to me—the very objectification of idiosyncratic hostility. ‘Gateway metal?’ Not hardly. Not by a fucking country mile.

“Good enough,” she smiled, pressing play and handing the phone back over. She leaned towards the speaker as “My First Knife” wept like sour, oily smoke from out of the device, and as her posture shuffled from degrees of earnest, straining focus to full-body, waspish scowl I began to marvel at how different the music sounded there with her than it had just a few hours earlier. It was aggravating, like a loose tailpipe dragged shrieking over pavement. It was an utterly disagreeable waft of sour milk. There in that moment it was way the fuck unwelcome.

And yet it was precisely the same music I’d been ravenously absorbing for days now, absolutely savoring its ‘aggravating’ glory. Obviously, it was the receiver that had been altered, the transmitter was no more or less flawed than ever before. I was interpreting it all differently. And so, the question surfaced from wherever it is that questions bubble up from: what does Today Is the Day really sound like divorced from all of our petty biases? Can music even be evaluated outside the vacuum of lived experience? Can melody have any sort of value in that sphere? And what about the flip side? Is it possible to measure music’s value when passed through the lens of very specific biases?

“I’m sorry but I think this is going completely over my head,” sighed my exasperated coworker inching farther back into the streetlamp’s ghastly sherbet-colored corona.

For example, I thought: what would Today Is the Day sound like to a career musician who’s suffered overt bodily trauma, who’s physical pain’s advanced enough so that they can barely hold a guitar pick between their fingers anymore? A musician who’s travelled so far inwards that they encode their latest album with cryptic personal asides to the extent that the album’s subtext is essentially impenetrable to everyone but themselves; like cairns raised along an overgrown path leading back into the past?

“Huh?” I startled, pressing stop. “Oh yeah. Well, the track was almost over anyway.”

I was absent; lost within the hedge-maze of this specific thought: What does Today Is the Day actually sound like to Steve Austin?

“The crucial discovery was made that, in order to become painting, the universe seen by the artist had to become a private one created by himself.” —André Malraux


“I feel like anytime ever that I’ve listened to music that was doing something different than what everyone else was doing, it usually turned me off. It usually made me go, ‘what the fuck is this?’ It could take me two weeks to a month for it to set in my head ‘till finally I would go, ‘Oh my god… this is totally doing something for me that I would have never expected from a heavy, underground music album.’”

Steve Austin’s voice furls outwards like wisteria over abandoned power lines. It moves at its own pace, curling in and around itself in strange paraphrastic arcs, swallowing up whatever talking point the interviewer may have dispensed and utterly reshaping the ground beneath it. It’s easy to become boxed in or else turned contrariwise by one trajectory as it cooly forks into multitudes. You’d best have brought along a map.

“Look, whenever you break the flow of anything and you try to do something different, you’re going to have to be brave enough and believe enough in what you’re doing,” he continues. “You’re not Led Zeppelin, this is not going to be an instant crowd pleaser. And whatever; I’ve always tried to ensure that Today Is the Day is the opposite of the mainstream, meaning that there’s no ‘prepared statement,’ there’s no preconceived ideas. Everything is free-thinking stream of consciousness that’s put out there as just this very visceral testimony. This is not a party experience.”

As a piece, No Good to Anyone may be a lot of things. It’s a deafening salvo clattering the earth in the wake of a protracted dead zone, it’s an annotation on the sinew of human will, a type of musculature so few of us ever deign to exercise, it’s the ominous rattle of a coyote testing its strength against a length of chicken wire. However, what No Good to Anyone is not is a ‘party experience.’ There are moments on the album that can feel at best like daunting incidentals and at worst like small scale catastrophes akin to watching a musician being sucked downwards into wet earth as they stubbornly push onwards through the show. It can sound like a machine vomiting sparks as something essential ricochets loose around inside it. And it can certainly effect, a kind of awesome magnetism on the listener as it rears back off the heels of its foundations while refusing to give in and topple. But one is rarely moved to celebrate in a storm cellar, (especially not to the tune of the structure’s groans of torment above them.) This is not a party album. This is not Led Zeppelin.

“Yeah well the whole point of the album is to go right over your head. Anything that breaks the mold is going to find resistance initially but I don’t think you can make great art if you’re afraid to do things that are untried and untested. I make these records to try to understand life. They’re a healing tool. I try to make something that—during whatever period of my life—behave like a little mirror that I can study my reflection by and try to understand what exactly is happening to me. Throughout all the albums up through this one, I feel like I’ve always been seeking answers and I’ve always been trying to understand myself because I don’t understand myself a lot of the time.” Steve loiters over the thought like cigarette smoke just outside an office break-room window. “I have a lot of built-up, super-intense anger that drives me fucking crazy but then at the same time, I’m the most loving, caring, thoughtful person. And it comes from the heart,” he emphasizes. You know, this whole time that I’ve been doing Today is the Day, a lot of it has been about exploring a question. It’s been trying to understand what it means to be a good person in a really fucked up world, trying to come to grips with the fact that you’re not always a good person. Sometimes you’re a bad person. Sometimes you’re a villain.”


“All art is a revolt against man’s fate.”  —André  Malraux

Researchers from John Hopkins Hospital have estimated that as many as 40-80% of chronic pain patients are routinely misdiagnosed owing most especially to the physician’s failure to take a comprehensive history from the patient and from ordering the wrong tests. Following a van accident in 2014 in which Today is the Day’s touring vehicle was struck and flipped upside down across l-495 at 65 miles per hour, Steve Austin began to suffer severe and persistent inflammation and found it increasingly difficult to walk. His condition was diagnosed as one of any number of things “from rheumatoid arthritis to fibromyalgia.” On the counsel of one physician and desperate for relief, Austin began rounds of an intensive anti-convulsive medication.

Now, let’s say that this specific proscription had been determined correctly. Anti-convulsive medications function by altering electrical activity in neurons or chemical transmissions between neurons. From there the potential cascade of side effects are as aggregate and as variegated as one can imagine, but—according to the medical resource site RxList—one of the most common side-effects across all of the most commonly prescribed seizure medications is the inducement “of suicidal thoughts and action,” (not to mention such possible delights as liver failure, serious blood disorders and—perhaps paradoxically—violent tremors.) Even in the best case scenario things can get dicey. Now imagine a body increasingly consumed by agonizing fits of inflammation, whose throat can swell up to the extent that its airway’s can become fundamentally blocked, whose hands and face might expand to twice their size and begin to feel as if they’ve literally been set on fire. The pain is fucking exquisite and the body can become physically unrecognizable to its owner. Imagine this drug and its potentially deadly psychological effects being introduced to this system, (entirely based on a misdiagnosis, mind you,) and the unholy chaos that can ensue from there. Just think about it for a second.

Still feel like you’re having a fucking bad day?


“If this album were a film, then when ‘Attacked by an Angel’ kicks in it would have been like shifting all of a sudden from this dense action scene with the first track to a shot of a hospital patient who is heavily drugged, staring out the window trying to cope with pain, fantasizing in terms of trying to reconcile their previous life with being immobile, ‘Sit and watch the time go by of which I am a slave, all the time that’s rolling by I cannot ever save,’” Austin sings soothingly. “This is just me staring out the window, daydreaming. Just trying to understand what’s happening to me.”

Let’s just say that my introduction to No Good to Anyone got off on the wrong foot and “Attacked by an Angel” was the proverbial out-of-kilter cadet that fucked up the entire military parade for me. I hated it. Its slippery, rhythmic nonchalance along with those coequally detached modal shifts in Austin’s vocal delivery, (contrast the melodic phrasing between the second line of the first verse and its reprisal on the second verse,) irritated me to the extent that I was initially closed to the album and began forecasting my sure-to-be high-minded and punishing review with genuine relish. But as it often happens with a new crush, it was this same track that took to roosting in my thoughts during the oddest moments, first as an interloper and then as a welcomed guest. Upon inspection “Attacked by an Angel’s” blemishes began to look a lot more like beauty marks such that I became enthralled by its eccentricities; until even -let the record show- I came to adore that subtle modal shift in the second verse, (“there’s no hope for you or I, you’re guilty and betrayed.”) And with that single but noteworthy recalibration the entire album clicked sharply into focus. Ah, this song, man… It lurches like an old whale-boat drawn into the eye of a ferocious squall. You can almost feel your grip slowly loosening from the mast as the waves salivate beneath the soles of your feet.

“It’s funny because I had this riff that I kept playing around with on tour,” Steve’s smile telescopes out from the compressed wave issuing from my laptop’s speakers into something nearly tangible. “It’s five notes and it repeats in a weird way and I don’t know why but I just kept grabbing that riff 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5. It was very monotonous but it was also extremely difficult in a very weird way to play. The fucking thing should be so simple for someone like me who’s been playing odd time signatures my whole life so I don’t know why but when I went to record that fucking part it was a trip to do,” he laughs. “And when I got through making that song—just as a fan of hard music and whatever—I listened to it and I thought, ‘Steve, what are you even doing?! What is this vocal style at the front end?’ But I realized that for me to do it the right way, it needed to not be sung powerfully. It had to come from a fragile place to where you’ve just got the breath to push it out, almost like you’re muttering to yourself rather than you’re speaking to someone else. And you know, one of my favorite parts on the whole album—that I think is pretty fucking inventive—is the ending of ‘Attacked by an Angel.” It has this almost Meshuggah-like, mechanical, industrial rhythm… its off time again so it fucks you up when it kicks in but there’s also the vocal I laid down there. I sang it in a Southern accent—like cowboy style—so that, (hopefully,) it would accurately reflect me as a person or as a spirit. Like my spirit singing on top of this mountain near my house and my ashes being scattered from it by my family.

“Now that I really think about it, this album’s fractured-ness probably is a good capture of what my life was like around then because very little of it made sense. It was just fragments, you know? One minute I was dreaming about something just thinking these really morbid thoughts like ‘am I going to cut my arm off? What am I willing to do to end this pain?’ but then the whole fantasy shifts… Like, now there’s a birthday party and I’m using a walker to make it into the kitchen to sing happy birthday for my son. So [the record is] all of these different little fragments collected together like a family snapshot album and yeah, it’s definitely weird. But it’s a pretty good diary. I would think that if my son Hank had a kid one day and he was wanting for him to understand his grandfather at this period of time, if he was to put on this album for him, I wouldn’t doubt that the kid would listen to it and go, ‘Oh, okay, I kind of have a picture of what grandpa was doing. I can sort of see who he was.’”

“The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random between the profusion of matter and of the stars, but that within this prison we can draw from ourselves images powerful enough to deny our nothingness.” —André Malraux


Richard Feynman was a theoretical physicist who proposed that all positrons are merely electrons that are moving backwards through time. It’s worth noting that he didn’t seem especially fond of this idea because he didn’t care for many of its implications. Nonetheless, it was simply the way the math worked out ergo that’s the way this particular slice of cornbread crumbled. Think about a black hole, a region of arching spacetime fringed by an event horizon and broadcasting a jet of positrons in the form of antimatter. According to NASA, when a star’s enthralled by the gravitational pull of a black hole it begins to collapse in upon itself. But as the star is drawn closer to the black hole’s theoretical boundary—the event horizon—time slows down and then finally…stops altogether. The star is no longer collapsing while it is now simultaneously always collapsing. It’s like being torn apart by the past while being held in stasis by the present.

If you could gaze into the past, what would you really see? Would it settle into familiar forms before you? When the Greek statues of pre antiquity arrived to European museums of the 18th Century, they came bleached by time of all their color. And therefore, ever since we’ve collectively envisioned an Ancient Greece populated with either alabaster or drab, khaki-toned statuary. But according to Plato these statues were actually painted so realistically that passing birds were attracted by the clusters of grapes that they held. All except for their eyes. Plato said that their eyes were customarily painted red; imagine that!

Maybe our past is nothing like we left it. Maybe the past stares back at us through blood-red eyes.

We’ll close the loop on the first portion of this observation here. Of course, we’re by no means done. If you thought that Steve Austin might simply have nothing more to say then you don’t know Steve Austin. Which, my friend, you most certainly don’t.

What is not surrounded by uncertainty cannot be truth.” —Richard Feynman

The post Fallow Heart: The Uncertainty Principle, A Biased Observation of Steve Austin, Part 1 appeared first on Decibel Magazine.