The Podcast


   

Latest Episode #39


Artificial Brain & Chthe'ilist

● On being shit-hot labelmates
● The insane challenges of their music
● Life at death metal's creative edge

More Episodes


#38 - Pagan Altar & Cirith Ungol

#37 - Metal Blade boss Brian Slagel

#36 - Paul Catten from Barrabus, Medulla Nocte


Must reads:    All Albums Of The Month   ●   From The Vaults!   ●  The Forums Hall Of Fame   ●   Irish Metal - Reviews Archive
Yellow Eyes | Interview


Black Metal is largely regarded as a European form of art – born in England and Scandinavia in the 1980s, honed and perfected by the Norwegians, French and Polish in the 90s.

So it often feels that no matter how good musically it may be, we still view American Black Metal with a degree of suspicion.

There are many fine USBM bands forging their own path in the underground, but perhaps with the more overground press attention given to the likes of Krallice, Deafheaven, Liturgy and the like of late, the phrase “American black metal” probably more than anything invokes a sense of mockery amongst the diehards.

Yellow Eyes are a fine reason to overcome any preconceptions or prejudice as regards to the nation’s contribution to all things grim however.

With a breathtaking debut lp in the form of “Hammer of Night” under their belts from last year, their forthcoming 12” ep “The Desert Mourns”, due January 21st via the Dead Section label, builds further with two expansive and evocative new tracks.

Jamie Grimes spoke to the two core members, brothers Will and Sam about their music, isolation, and being a self contained entity.

***

Will, I normally avoid this question but as I can find very little information about you anywhere, could you maybe give us a potted history of Yellow Eyes thus far?

I know there was a tape prior to ‘Hammer of Night’, there are brothers in the band and that you rarely play live , and that’s about it.

How long have you been playing together? Was there a particular goal or aim in mind when the band started in terms of musical or aesthetic goals? And has the lack of gigging been an intentional step or purely the way things have worked out?

Will: “Sam and I are brothers. In 2008, I was living in Norway and he was in France. I called him to see if he wanted to spend the winter in the Czech Republic. A few weeks later we were in the Prague airport, heading into the city without any sense of what we were doing.

We eventually found jobs and an apartment, but we had to drop all of the brother competitiveness to have enough energy to keep our spirits up. There was no other option. We didn’t speak Czech, so every day was exhausting. Everything–buying a bed, fixing a leak in the toilet, opening a bank account–was a joint effort.”

Sam: “We would go to metal shows in the outskirts of the city. I was only a casual metal fan before then, but all of a sudden in that context it made sense. The bleaker the music, the more I loved it.

We stayed in Prague for a year. When we got back to New York, we started writing music as Yellow Eyes, but the formation of the band happened there. We were listening to a lot of Slavic bands in Prague, like Drudkh and Old Wainds, so when it came down to writing songs in the USA, that’s what we were thinking about. Hopelessness. Peasant sadness.

As for the lack of gigging, that’s partly practical, since we’ve been writing and recording so much. We’ve also had members come and go. But mostly we just don’t want to be playing constantly. It shouldn’t feel like a routine.”

There’s a sense of isolation that permeates the music to me – you mentioned to me that “Hammer” was recorded in a cabin in the woods which was a surprise to hear but somehow made sense.

Firstly, what prompted you to work in such an unorthodox manner?

Is this the usual recording/working method for you guys – do you think making the album in that setting influenced the music for example, or was it all written before you decamped to the cabin? And I have to ask – is this the ‘Cabin Filled With Smoke and Flies’

Will: “There’s an old house in Connecticut that we’ve had in our family for a few generations. We basically grew up there. In the winter, it’s a very primitive experience–no water, heated only by fire.

Black metal is at its best coming from the small stereo by that fireplace. We recorded ‘Silence Threads The Evening’s Cloth’ and the ‘Monument’ split in a matter of hours in a tiny practice space in New York, but we wanted to do ‘Hammer Of Night’ in Connecticut.

We wanted to take our time and be able to spread out. It’s in the middle of the woods, with no close neighbors. There was a foot of snow, so we had to bring our gear in on sleds.

When you lay down your guitar to go piss off a dark cliff in the middle of a snowstorm, and then you come inside and pick up your guitar again, you’re more likely to trust your instincts with that middle section that needs a little bit of work.

It might be easier to find the elusive chord. It was total immersion. No distractions. We were writing lyrics by the stove at night. Those sorts of things have to end up seeping into the music. (And yes, the cabin was filled with smoke and flies.)

I suppose related to that in a way – I know you guys are based in Brooklyn, which although I’ve never been there I understand to be more of a “concrete jungle” type urban setting, yet the music, the titles and even some of the art evokes imagery to me probably more in line with the setting you recorded in.

Is Yellow Eyes perhaps a vehicle for you to express a dissatisfaction with the pace of modern urban living?

Will: “We both work in the city, so it makes sense for us to live here. It occasionally has it’s perks, but at the end of the day I far prefer an isolated forest setting. I try to spend most weekends in Connecticut.

Even though we practice and perform in Brooklyn, all of the songwriting happens (at least mentally) far far away from here.

My girlfriend is Russian, so I’m able to spend a lot of time in Siberia (hence the name of our label). It’s places like that where I’m most inspired. It’s much easier to write when while sitting by a fire. Yellow Eyes wasn’t purposefully a way to express dissatisfaction with urban living, but more a way to express satisfaction and a connection with the places that define us most.”

So overall, you record yourselves. You play live seemingly selectively, and you release your own music ocassionally through your Sibir label, which gives the impression to me of Yellow Eyes as a very focussed, self-continued unit.

Where do you feel your place is in terms of the black metal scene within the US if at all? Are there any bands in your home country you feel any particular kinship with?

And do you feel perhaps the US has come into its’ own sonically in terms of having a definable take of its’ own on black metal?

Sam:

It does seem like we have a reputation for being isolationists. It’s not intentional. We fill as many roles as we can. On a typical evening, I’m working on an album cover while Will (who is a violin maker) is hunched over his bench with a bright light and a razor blade, cutting strips of leather for a cassette box.

As for recording: if you know how to record yourself, you should. I barely know what I’m doing, and I’m the “engineer.” Putting microphones in the wrong places is what makes your band sound different. Isn’t that the point?

Will:

I’m pretty impressed with the black metal scene in New York. Our last show was in a dingy basement in Brooklyn–a “DIY venue,” I guess you’d call it–with Vorde, Ghede, and Vilkacis (all local bands).

I wasn’t too familiar with any of them before the show but I was completely blown away. Each band felt so genuine. Their motives were pure.

It was encouraging to basically stumble upon other people with an equal passion for this type of music. I’m not sure what it’s like outside of New York, but there is most certainly a community striving here.

We’re on the periphery of that–probably because we feel much more drawn to the woods than here–but it is comforting to be surrounded by it.

It’s great to be considered contributing members of the USBM scene, but I personally feel more connected to the international black metal scene.

Okay so let’s move forward – you’re about to release the new two song ep ‘The Desert Mourns’ through the Danish DEAD SECTION label, who also did the vinyl version of ‘Hammer’ last year.

Can you tell us a little about the genesis of this new release? Was it written as a stand alone ep or is this taster for a new full length?

How do you feel you’ve progressed on these new songs from “Hammer”?

Sam: “The Desert Mourns was meant to be a standalone EP. Working on a shorter release was refreshing, because it was fueled by a single image–In this case, the title.

We wrote the songs quickly and recorded them immediately. It’s always good to write fast, and it’s good to be reckless with your sound so you’re not trying to recreate anything. That’s what EPs are good for.

You don’t have to carry a whole album, you just have to have an idea and let that drive 15 minutes of music. But I would say that we put more thought into the atmosphere than ever. There’s a tense, hovering quality about this one that was drawn out by burying strange textures inside the guitars.

When I was visiting my girlfriend in Spain last summer, I came across a brass band leading a funeral procession from the harbor to the center of town.

All the fishing boats were blaring their horns at once, and the trumpets started playing a melancholy Spanish folk song centered around that note. It was beautiful–a massive, echoing drone.

I pulled out my phone and recorded it. Later in the autumn, while I was mixing the second song on the EP, “One Rock For The Wild Dog,” I suddenly remembered that sample and tried dropping it right in the middle of the track.

Somehow it worked perfectly, from the blown-out texture of the overloaded phone’s mic to the chord changes of the folk song. I didn’t have to move it at all.

It’s low in the mix, so you can barely hear it, but it adds an intangible sadness to the track.

One of the standout elements for me on your releases thus far has to be the interlay between the guitars on the songs – there’s a real vastness in some of the guitar lines, the way the chords and melodies fit together is quite complex but it sounds so simple and flowing.

How does the song writing come together for you?

Particularly with the songs on the new ep both being a little on the longer side, is it there much of a struggle for you in terms of trying to balance the technical and the atmospheric when you’re writing?

Will: “I spend a lot of time writing before we collaborate. I basically build up a library of song sections.

When Sam and I finally sit down to write, we’ll start from scratch, and I’ll inject riffs that I had written previously when a space opens up.

Once we have all the pieces in order, we’ll play them through, over and over, making small adjustments or adding transitions between sections to allow them to flow. We write quickly.

Maybe it’s a brother thing, but we’re very similar in our writing style, in both technical and atmospheric aspects. It’s all really natural.

Finally, with the new ep due in January, you’ve mentioned to me you’re looking to broaden your live plans to maybe incorporate some touring later this year, perhaps even over to our side of the pond if you can.

Do you feel perhaps 2014 will be an important year for you? And what do you want from it?

Will: “We’re already working on another EP for New Jersey-based Prison Tatt Records. We hope to record that this spring.

In terms of US shows, we probably won’t leave the East Coast this year, but we are eyeing the UK and Ireland for a small tour. I don’t think 2014 will be any more important than 2024. Yellow Eyes is a necessary outlet, whether or not people are listening.”

Interview by Jamie Grimes ::: 16/1/14


4 Comments
  1. Really like this. Some great bands coming out of the U.S these days

  2. Sounding A LOT like Krallice to me, which is no bad thing at all. Cool stuff!

  3. Eoin McLove Says:

    Sounds cool.

  4. Well impressed with this. I have to commend MI for introducing me to another great band that would probably never come on to my radar. Cheers

Post your comment
Name

Mail (will not be published - required)