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Dark Matter | Interview


Dark Matter are a unique act in Irish terms.

They conjure celestial sounds with a cosmic take on metal, laid on a solid base of gothic and alternative foundations.

Kevin Jacob managed to catch up with Eoin and Dave to get the low-down on these star trekking metallers, and on their sounds, influences and views.

***

It’s quite clear, not only from the music, but also from the aesthetic, that Dark Matter are a band who have Star Trek or at least Sci Fi on the brain.

The lovingly crafted tracks infused with Jean Luc and the boys somehow manages to avoid the toe curling shite proffered by weaker acts.

Can you give us a bit of insight into how Trekkie Metalheads go about not only making tunes, but also doing so with such panache?

Eoin – Haha, ya, personally I’m a big sci-fi fan, Star Trek included!!

I suppose what we do is a different slant to Fear Factory’s fascination with the rising of machines, which itself is very much of the universe of Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’.

I’m very interested in what will happen to mankind in the long term. And when one thinks in long term it lends itself to science fiction really.

We seem to be inherently self-destructive, the planet is fucked so invariably there will come a time where the planet will have to be abandoned.

Then there’s the, admittedly small. chance of an asteroid collision. These kind of “end of the world” scenarios are, not necessarily a pre-occupation of mine, but are certainly areas that I think about. The song titles are largely representative of that I think.

Dave – As well as the name of the album and the artwork involved – it’s all leading to a (possibly) cataclysmic event

What I think we are always careful about is going overboard with synth effects. Quite often we try out up to five or ten different patches for a section and select the best two or three to go with so it (hopefully) never sounds too tactastic

The sound is interstellar. The dreaded keyboards are infused in the tunes, but they work so well. Was this a worry before recording?

Eoin – There seems to be a lot of negativity thrown at keyboards and synths alright. Is that a lingering resentment of the 80s? I guess the first music I’d have been exposed to on the radio would have been 80s stuff.

Image-wise it is very easy to look back in a mocking manner but some great music came from that era. Tears for Fears, A-ha amongst many others have written great tracks, that are heavily laden with synths, that I think have stood the test of time.

I guess whatever cringiness/cheesiness associated with keyboards simply doesn’t register with me. Whether that’s for good or ill, I don’t know….. The only setting keys seem OTT to me would be in a symphonic metal guise, and even then it’s generally the vocals that are too much for me.

To be honest, it has never even crossed my mind whether to have keys or not.

They are simply part of my own personal writing process. I’m limited in what I can do on guitar technically, and being a solitary guitarist, we are also limited in layering guitar lines.

I have no desire to be a tap dancer with a looper pedal in a live setting as it would completely detract from the joy of it and it’d require almost total sobriety, and where’s the fun in that!!

Therefore, for a multitude of reasons, keyboards will always be an integral part of what Dark_Matter do.

Dave – absolutely not, keyboards have always been in the band in one form or another. They only difference is that they have changed – when the band first started they were all very…earthy patches (strings and woodwind) but as we progressed these were swapped out for more interstellar synth sounds whivh (in my opinion) can add far more texture to a recording.`

But, in some recent recordings we seem to be combining both traditional patached and synth patches to create…something different…

‘Space Metal’, if one can refer to Dark Matter’s output as such, is such a minority genre, and particularly this variety that is difficult to ascertain what influences the listener can nail down. Some of the leadwork reminds me of latter day Windir perhaps, but other than that it’s not clear. Do you feel this is a good thing, and can you let us in on the secret?

Eoin – I guess space metal is the closest tag you could attach to us alright.

At the early stages we got a lot of Paradise Lost and Anathema comparisons. For me this was a bit of a double edged sword.

To be fair, they are my favourite bands but I really didn’t want to sound like we were emulating them. Ya, it’s great to be be even mentioned in the same breath as the above but if we were to come across as a rip off we’d certainly need to re-assess what we were doing.

Since the album has come out, particularly on Metal Ireland anyway, other early gothic/doom stuff has been mentioned: The Gathering, Tiamat etc. Now I only know The Gathering from 1 or 2 tracks that used get regular airplay on Headbangers Ball back in the day, likewise with Tiamat, I remember “Gaia” I think it was, that was played pretty often too.

Neither bands did much for me at all back then, but in the last couple of years I do enjoy a bit of Tiamat, however they are a bit late to the table to be considered influences on our sound.

I hate being asked to describe our sound. These things are always easier from without.

Is “Space/Doom” a thing??? I would hope that it isn’t too easy to pigeon hole us.

People tell us that they hear a fairly wide range of bands within our sound, from Pink Floyd to God is an Astronaut to Fear Factory to the likes of Depeche Mode.

This is great in the sense that though we’re instrumental and possibly alienate people who just want to see/hear a metal band, there’s enough there to keep them interested. Similarly, we play very diverse bills and (like to think) we don’t seem too out of place.

With regard to the leadwork, I guess I just try to write something that lifts that part of the song. I’d love to be a more accomplished lead guitarist.

My favourite guitarists would be Jerry Cantrell and Gregor Macintosh and it’d be great to be able to have those standard of solos in our stuff.

Sadly, when my peers were inside practicing a couple of hours a day, I was probably off doing something untoward and unconstructive! I’d never have made a great guitarist at any rate so I don’t lose sleep about it.

I think writing good songs is more important. Tony Iommi isn’t best known for his solos after all… That being said, I think we might address this down the line. I’d like to push the envelope a bit further on future recordings……

How do you see see Dark Matter progressing?

Eoin – From prior to the demo up til about the summer of this year we worked fairly intensely. It takes an awful lot longer to nail down songs than I guess non-instrumental bands.

I’m constantly editing or adding to stuff we would already have considered “finished products” too which doesn’t doesn’t help. This can, and has been quite draining in hindsight.

Lately we’ve taken the foot off the gas a bit. We’ve 3 fully finished tracks and about 5 or 6 works-in-progress that are at various stages of completion.

Some are old enough songs that for one reason or another were abandoned prior to recording “A Place of Memories and Ghosts”. With a bit of tinkering some or all of these could be used at a future date. In fact, our first thought is whether to work on an EP or a full length.

Some of the songs are quite doomy, there’s a lot of traditional strings and piano parts rather than the synthy stuff we’d probably be more associated with. Then some are quite similar to A Place of…. and a couple more are slower, heavier or more guitar-based.

There has to be an association within the songs we choose. The theme and titles on album number 1 is of The End of Times – end of life on a personal or spiritual level and destruction of the world, basically “death” on a micro and macro level.

I think we got the flow of the album pretty correct in a concept album type of way. There would have to be some sort of concept or theme again for the next recording. Therefore if only 4 or 5 songs have this link it’ll be an EP.

However, if we can adapt soundscapes at a suggestive level maybe we could bridge the differing styles of the stuff over the course of a full length.

As I mentioned, we have slowed down of late. It takes a lot of energy to maintain the commitment to being in a band. Life, of course, inevitably starts to get in the way.

I have a 4 year old so a lot of this time and energy now goes in this direction. I don’t think I’d be able to cope with incessant practice and gigs. Previously I’ve gone the best part of a year not getting to meet up and get drunk with non-musical friends cos of our schedule in the band.

You can get very wrapped up in a bit of a bubble but when you’re in your 30s it’s hard enough to get out and socialise like a normal person without the added pressure of everything associated with being in a band.

I wouldn’t swap the way we’ve done things to date and I’m extremely fortunate that I still get to play and write music. I don’t take this for granted, I’ve just come to realise that I can’t take for granted all the others things in life that deserve attention too.

Dave – As Eoin mentioned, people hear a lot of influences within the music…I believe it is because our own influences are so diverse in range and taste (some of which will not be mentioned here in fear of me being lynched!)

Dream Theater comes to mind when you ask whether it’s a good thing – I have heard people complain that they show their influences a little too much (The Beatles and Muse immediately coming to mind) – so yes, it is definitely a good thing!

A lot of what we do, what I think every band should try and do…is not be afraid to explore your sound and try different licks and beats from different styles of music…a perfect example being the beginning of Planetary Collapse – I love my metal and I love playing metal…but I play a beat that wouldn’t really be out of place in dance music.

With Mick adding more and more to the sound now, I think this will only diversify further.

I personally think Tiamat’s ‘Wildhoney’ is painfully overrated. There is a lot more going on here. How are you faring as a band leader with such tantalising potential at the helm?

Eoin – Haha, band leader!! In the first band I played in, I was the bassist and had no say whatsoever in the song-writing process.

Granted, the stuff I’d have written wouldn’t have been as good as the song writer but I’d never take that band leader (read: tyrant) position. It works for lots of bands of course and I don’t want to appear like I think it’s a flawed system, it just isn’t within my personality to be domineering in a situation that should be enjoyable for each member.

I guess I write most of the stuff but I certainly wouldn’t be able to bring it all together. Dave is great for structuring songs, Mike is very good at putting in small but interesting touches e.g. putting in a 6/4 bar here or change the rhythm pattern there just to change things up, very important things that add interesting elements to the songs.

Then obviously, what and the way they play elevates what would probably be very mundane. Mike has started to contribute more to the song writing aspect also and I love one of the new ones we’re currently playing that he wrote.

We all have an equal say in the decision making process and are generally quite diplomatic in how we treat each other. No bust ups at all, though I do remember them being fun from time to time in previous bands!

The genre you have chosen is not like others in metal in the sense that progression of the sound is a distinct probability. It must excite you to see where DM can go from here.

Eoin – Ya, we certainly don’t feel as confined as most other bands probably do. It’s certainly pretty niche what we’re doing.

It’s not they type of stuff that your typical metal fan probably goes for but this is very liberating. Knowing that we can’t please everyone, we only seek to please ourselves so, in theory, anything goes.

As long as we can stand over the work, that really is all that matters. So, the fact that we don’t want to record the same album over and over definitely suggests there’s going to be some sort of progression or evolution, within our collective means anyway.

What this might be over the next couple of years, who’s to know. I guess it’ll be done one step at a time. It’s great being within this “unknown”. If it was to be too predictable, there would be no challenge and subsequent reward.

As long as we feel like we haven’t run out of ideas, we’ll keep at it. Fingers crossed we don’t run out of ideas, as unfortunately this seems to be a worrying trend with instrumental music.

Could you give us a concise insight into how you envisaged the sound prior to the studio compared with the output?

Eoin – What with Dave and Mike both having home recording set-ups, there was very little change in the overall sound from before we hit the studio to the finished product.

As we’d been gigging the tracks, structures were basically set in stone. Knowing this, we actually recorded the keys ourselves and basically transported them to the actual studio.

Dave’s brother did the recording in Athlone and he knew how to get the best out of Dave!! Solos and everything were written in advance of the recording, granted at least 2 of the tracks this was done very shortly prior to the recording.

There are a couple of examples of guitar harmony parts that were created in the studio, but having spent so much time doing our own rough tracks, we basically knew how it would turn out. Of course, having it recorded properly made the songs sound much better than any iterations we’d recorded ourselves.

What are your own listening habits? I was listening to Jakob and Nadja recently and they have a similar expression to yourselves in terms of the atmospherics, however I feel DM are less meandering and more focussed on a delivery of shorter and more conventional tracks. To differentiate this from influences, could you tell us what makes you tick as listeners?

Eoin – As mentioned earlier, Paradise Lost and Anathema would be my favourite bands for a long time so stuff of this ilk resonates with me, Type O, Katatonia, My Dying Bride etc.

Basically stuff that has the heaviness but also the melody and atmosphere that keyboards lend themselves to so easily. However, I can’t really bring myself to get into the more symphonic stuff!!

In the last 7 or 8 years, I’ve listened to a lot of post-rock/post metal stuff. God is an Astronaut, Caspian, Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor and more recently, Long Distance Calling.

With the exception of Godspeed, all those bands tend to go for what would be considered more typical song lengths. We’ve kind of experimented with extra long songs, once recently springs to mind, but it just didn’t have the impact live that we were hoping.

Whether that’s just a case of it not working on that particular track or if it’s more us not being very good at writing 10-minute songs, I don’t know… I suppose the slightly more focused and straight to the point thing might just suit us better.

Needless to say, I’ve always been a fan of the more typical stuff too, Metallica, GnR, Slayer and what not and finally got to cross Sabbath off the bucket list recently, as they are probably the reason I picked up an instrument in the first place.

I’ve liked a lot of grunge and even a little bit of nu metal (yes, I know!) over the years. One of my favourite recent albums is the latest Deftones one. Just a fuckin great record.

I also love Depeche Mode, The Cure, Interpol and that kind of stuff. Obviously not similar in style to my other tastes but quite similar in tone.

Can you describe to us the live set up routine? With such an array of effects, it can’t be straightforward.

Eoin – Actually Kevin it’s very easy, all the synths are on backing tracks and Dave plays to a click. Now of course, in an ideal world we’d be in a position to have them played live but quite simply that would require 2 keyboardists with 2 keyboards each, most likely also using octave pedals.

Before we decided to go instrumental, I was playing guitar and keys live, alternating between both. Now as you can imagine there’s no real fluidity to that.

Bars would be left slightly unfinished on one instrument to start on the other. Even at that, most often there’d be a layer missing. Now that’s not a problem.

That’s not to say we haven’t looked in the past, it’s just not easy to acquire someone. We also had this problem searching for a violinist. Circumstances being what they are, backing tracks were the best option.

Is it cheating? Possibly. Would we strip it back for the sake of some supposed “purity”? Not a hope. God is an Astronaut used to rely heavily on backing tracks, til they got an additional member in. Obviously it’s much easier for a band of that stature to do so.

I’ve seen Paradise Lost use them and most recently, Black Sabbath. Being perfectly honest, if it’s good enough for Sabbath that’s that and I wouldn’t offer any apologies. If I was a purist I wouldn’t be playing this type of music in the first place as simply it wouldn’t be feasible to present it in a live environment.

The whole issue of whether or not backing tracks and clicks are ‘legitimate’ have become the vocation for quit a few of, how you put it ‘Purists’, and while not offering an opinion, with the sheer weight of bands utilizing this method of augmenting a sound doesn’t give it a huge amount of credence. Do you feel as musicians that the whole issue is tiresome? You have given some practical reasons and you are in good company, do you understand the furore?

Eoin – I get where they are coming from but by the same token I imagine those that complain about it are the ones who play in bands that don’t experiment outside of the vocals/guitars/bass/drums formula.

This is in no way of passing negative comment on those bands, I love loads of those bands. I wouldn’t like Alice in Chains, for example, to suddenly introduce a keyboardist.

Bands should play what they want to play in an honest manner using whatever instruments they feel are necessary to convey what the band are about.. For good or ill, our stuff is heavily reliant on synths, so the best way we can, we are portraying what we do.

We are not Mike Oldfield or Dead Can Dance. We don’t have access to a wide range of eclectic musicians. By stepping away from the norm and introducing different textures we are paradoxically inviting limitations on ourselves. If it was just guitar/bass/drums it’d be a lot easier. It is simply a case of “needs must”.

Do you feel the band is some thing that become an earner in the future, or are ye happy for it to be a ‘hobby’ for want of a better word?

Eoin – No, I don’t expect it ever to be an “earner”. I think everybody in or starting a band should lose this delusion right off the bat. In the modern age it’s just not as realistic to expect to make money from it, certainly not enough to live on.

I’ll use the example of Pelican about whom I recently read an interview with. They’ve been together a long time doing the touring/recording cycle that one would expect of a band. Recently however it came to the point where they all had to get jobs to fund touring so now it’s a situation that they’ve had to succumb to the real world to fund their hobby as you call it.

Now this is a band with a healthy reputation getting bigger and more frequent gigs than we’d ever be likely to get. Now if it’s not sustainable for a band of that pedigree, then you just have to accept that’s how it is.

Added to the fact that the 3 of us have jobs, 2 of us have mortgages, we simply couldn’t do this full time and if you want to be in with any chance of making a living from it you have to be doing it year-round.

To be fair we’re not doing it for money anyway, none of us are motivated in that way. For myself at least, my motivation is just to have a body of work that I can look back on with some pride and something to show the youngfla when he gets older. We’ve one album done so at least we’re on the right path thus far.

We were also recently added as support to God Is an Astronaut when they play Limerick on March 7. Rather than financial gain being a motivator, the possibility of playing with bands we are fans of is a big attraction.

I think getting into music in the first place, the dream is of sharing the stage with bands you’ve always looked up to. I’ve been a fan of God Is for almost 10 years so to be able to play with them is brilliant.

We’ve already played with A Pale Horse Named Death and this was as close to supporting Type O as you can get so this was obviously a collective highlight so far. If we could play with Anathema and’or Paradise Lost now that would really satisfy all musical aspirations!

Interview by Kevin Jacob ::: 05/03/13


3 Comments
  1. Seen Dark Matter a few weeks ago in Stiff Kitten, best heavy band in Ireland easy, blew me away!

  2. Good interview – All hail the synths!!

  3. For a non musical metal fan like me it was interesting to read about technical situations that a keyboard reliant group (down to earth bunch of flas who love what they do regardless of success) need to overcome.

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