Interview by Parisa Eshrati
I had a chance to chat with members of DTADW before they headed out west to Southwest Terror Fest in Tucson. We delved into the themes of their upcoming album, Litany, classical compositions, unicorn tears, and much more.
Since your upcoming album, Litany, explores so many different musical styles I'm curious how much of the variety is due to the fact that there are seven band members. Do you all bring your own influences to the table and collectively work from there, or do you all have a pretty similar idea of the sound you want to achieve?
James – The process is pretty organic, we start with a basic progression and each person adds their own parts. Of course we critique each other’s parts but for the most part everyone is left to their own devices. After it’s all there, a song just takes on a life of its own. We don’t really plan out a “sound.” That’s just what comes out.
Mike – We've never talked about a sound or worried about being categorized as this or that. In fact, it's kind of funny to see how many genres are used in the press, and I think that’s right where we want to be. Finding a balance between all of our influences can be a challenge at times, but I think it should be. It's the whetstone that keeps us growing and the results are progressive and interesting.
Sean – To me, there is almost an inherent beauty in the way people attribute meaning to their own unique musical experiences. While, some may hear our music and hear strong elements of black metal, others are drawn more to nuanced subtleties and dark atmospheric leanings. That’s just a sign that we have been successful in some regard in evoking emotion from the listener, and that’s very rewarding as artists.
What are the some of the commonalities and differences that the band members have in their musical background?
James – I’m pretty sure all of us listen to wildly different music at home, but we can usually agree on something to put on in the van. I’ve played in some pretty weird projects and still do I suppose, but this is the most advanced group of like-minded musicians with which I’ve played. It’s a real pleasure.
Mike – We've all played in projects that are heavy or have those kinds of elements. Where we differ is that some are self taught while others had formal education. That variety lets us approach ideas from a number of ways and sometimes leads to those “a-ha” moments on both ends of the spectrum.
You released a visually stunning album teaser video on Decibel. Do you think you'd expand on that and make music videos for this album? Do you have any visions in your mind for how'd you like to visually represent your work?
Sean – Jakub from Chariot of Black Moth was kind enough to provide the stunning visuals for the teaser video. We have talked loosely about the idea of a full video, though that poses many challenges with such long compositions. Even so, that’s something I’d very much like to see happen if the opportunity presents itself. We put a lot of thought into visual aesthetic, and Jakub did an excellent job of conveying that in his own way.
James – The Road by Cormac McCarthy was a big influence on me when it came to writing this record. I loved the movie version as well. Sean and I always thought that Wolves in the Throne Room should have done the soundtrack for all the cuts of the decaying landscapes. If we ever made a video I would want it to be evocative of those segments.
Eva – We’ve discussed the possibility of doing a full music video, but let’s be honest – at 15-20 minutes a song, that's really not a music video but rather a short film.
Mike – Staying true to our narrative and themes in a somewhat oversaturated or dogmatic setting can be a challenge. That's also a great opportunity to kick down some walls and change expectations. With all this in mind, we are looking for the right person or team that can meet these standards, but in my mind it would ultimately be a short film featuring our music.
There are a lot of guest features on this upcoming album, i.e. Pallbearer, Pinkish Black, etc. How did these collaborations come about? Any plans to tour with these bands in the near future?
James – Man, let’s just all go together. That would be a hell of a tour. We just kind of asked some of our local heroes and friends to be a part of the record. Eva and I did a tour with Sabbath Assembly, so having Jamie Myers and Daron Beck was an extension of that experience. The addition of Sarah Alexander was perfect. She can really belt it out.
Sean – I’d known Pallbearer vaguely from my time living in Arkansas. When material for Litany finally began to really take shape, there were several parts we wanted to try experimenting with some clean vocals, and Brett instantly came to mind. Anyone paying attention to anything heavy in the past five years would spot Brett’s vocals from a mile away. Luckily, he was really into what we were doing, and I couldn’t be happier that it all came together. But seriously, a Pallbearer, Pinkish Black, Sabbath Assembly, and Dead To A Dying World tour – that would be a dream if there ever was one.
Mike – Luckily I grew up in a city that always fostered great musicians, going back to Ornette Coleman and Townes Van Zandt. I've had a lot of people to learn from and look up to, and as a fun little pipe dream I used to think about bringing all of those folks together. Making that idea a reality is far better than I imagined and something I know we will continue to do. Far more important than the result is the genuinely rewarding experience working with people you admire and respect, and I hope that circle continues to grow.
Litany is divided it up into six movements, so I was curious if there was any classical music that helped inspire this arrangement. If so, what composers do you all listen to? If not, what made you decide to arrange the album this way?
James – When I was high school I took Advanced Placement Music Theory and the program took us to a performance of Mozart’s Requiem Mass. It was the most moving performance I’ve ever witnessed. The Confutatis and Lacrimosa are stunningly powerful. I’m a sucker for big minor choral works. Carl Orff is the jam. I like some of the weirder stuff too. John Cage and Krzysztof Penderecki are rad.
Eva – When we were writing this album, and especially the idea of the interludes separating these anthropological songs, I always referred to Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” when talking about them. I actually just stumbled across an Emerson Lake and Palmer version of it at the record store that I’ve been geeking out over. Anyways, that suite and Saint-Saëns work are probably my biggest classical influences when it comes to songwriting. I love romantic era composers and 70s prog concept albums, which both have very similar approaches to songwriting and composition.
Mike – Without a doubt, that's something we talked about many times when we started the writing process. Just the powerful impact of Mozart’s Requiem had on us, which interestingly enough is also thought to be a collaboration of sorts. Personally, Henryk Gorecki always resonated with me more, especially when thinking about how classical relates to heavy music.
Sean – My inspiration from classical music composition is ultimately what lead me to pursue this project from the beginning. Classical composers weren’t so interested in keeping things short and sweet, and neither are we. If you want something grandiose, dynamic, and full of emotional depth, there’s no better inspiration.
This album emphasizes a lot of environmental themes. What are some specific environmental issues that really helped push this theme in your music?
James – Many of the reviews of Litany have mentioned environmental issues. While it’s clear that humanity has started a chain of events that it would seem are irreversible and the most likely cause of environmental collapse, unless some fool starts detonating nukes, we never explicitly say or mean that’s what has caused the Armageddon delineated in these songs.
Sean – Those themes are certainly present, but to me such social and environmental degradation are ultimately inseparable. I don’t feel that we, as living beings, can remove ourselves as separate entities. When we allude to environmental devastation, it is very much the devastation of humanity hand-in-hand.
Eva – When we were discussing the narrative behind the album I always thought of this album being a historical and anthropological record of these people. But, you know, we aren’t in the cold war anymore, and I think a lot of post-apocalyptic narratives now reflect that. These presupposed narratives reflect collective fears present in popular culture, and climate change and environmental collapse is a much more clear and present danger than a post-nuclear holocaust.
Mike – There are general themes of reckless consumption, profit over people, war for resources and disregard for prosperity of life at large. This leads us to a world hostile to human life, and in a few ways this is a setting that we could easily see in our lifetimes. It raises questions about our relationship to nature and our global impact without being specific. The real environment I try to lay out is all internal with the world at large being the reflection. The personifications of Religion, Politics, and War have a seat at the table of delegates within our minds along with many others and they are all fighting for their own agenda in their own way. Any environmental or social issue we face starts right there. Whenever a choice is made whose voice do we listen to, why, and can we ever change?
Do you consider song writing a tool to personally combat this bleakness you've all discussed?
Mike – Maybe in performing with each other when we are fleshing out a song. Writing has the opposite effect though. Music can be a little different, but with lyrics you don't leave quite as much open to interpretation. Researching events, characters, or ideas that help to inspire the narrative can make it difficult to be optimistic about our nature and our future. Without massive cultural change I know it’s not possible, but that change just doesn't happen, not without a massive crisis. But we’ve seen that before as well, and before too long it’s back to business as usual on a larger scale.
Sean – Speaking personally, my dedication in starting this project was very much directly related to combating severe major depressive episodes and suicidal ideation within my life. I knew I would have to harness all of my creative passion and really apply myself to something in order to keep myself going, and that is exactly what I did. Music quite literally saved my life in that way.
James – We certainly aren’t out to get everyone to start riding bikes and recycling. It’s more about accepting that maybe we as a species don’t really deserve to be here. How’s that for bleakness? That and happy music makes me want to slam my face in a drawer.
Finally, what are some things that describe the smell of your tour van?
James – Burned Brakes and Mike’s Trench Foot.
Mike – Weaponized Vegan Brownies.
Sean – Unicorn Tears from too much Taylor Swift.
All interviews posted before October 2015 were originally recorded for KAMP Student Radio.