Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Dead To A Dying World Interview

Dead To A Dying World was a band I knew nothing about before stumbling upon their Litany album a month ago. Incorporating everything from doomy hardcore to black metal melodies and post rock atmospherics, their music has a scope and ambition few bands attempt. Since I have a soft spot for artists that go out of their way to break the mould, I reached out to the band for an interview. Guitarist Sean Mehl and multi-instrumentalist James Magruder took turns answering my questions.

Dreams of Consciousness: What is Dead To A Dying World?

Sean: Dead To A Dying World is the struggle of survival in world wrought with pain and suffering. It is the misguided hope that we are anything more than obsolete on an evolutionary timeline. It is representative of both the struggle and departure from our natural world and the inner anguish and self-doubt from within.

DoC: Please give a history of your band. What led to you forming? How clear an idea did you have of the type of music you wanted to make before you got together - ie, did you already have your present sound in mind, or did it come about organically/accidentally?

James: Sean thought the whole thing up while attending Hendrix College in Arkansas. He had pages and pages of sheet music written when I first showed up to check out what he was suggesting. He had some of my dear friends in the Dallas scene already signed on, namely Stefan Gonzalez and Mike Yeager. We were only supposed to record the one album and call it quits, but I guess we liked each other too much or whatever. Five years later here we are. We’ve had a multitude of lineup changes, but we’ve landed with our most solid lineup ever. Sean had a very clear idea for the first record, since then it’s been more fluid. We’ve tapped into many other styles and influences. To quote Daron Beck, “Good cooks use more than two ingredients.”

DoC: One of the signature elements of your style is the use strings (cello, viola, upright bass) which isn't unheard of in heavy music but still rare. How did this come about? How hard was it to find collaborators who could play those instruments that were also into heavy crust/metal?

Sean: When first writing material for Dead To A Dying World I knew that strings would certainly play a prominent role. Much of the original songwriting was done with specific spring parts already in mind, even before the band had been fully formed. With the noted inclusion of strings, the only thing that really changed over time was the approach and stylings of those string elements. After the departure of our original cellist and upright bassists we found it particularly difficult to find a suitable string player who would carry us into the current chapter. It wasn’t until discovering Texas instrumentalists Sans Soleil that we eagerly invited violist Eva Vonne into the fold. We are lucky to have her.

James: Luckily, we are just weird enough to hold Eva’s interest. It would be an entirely different project without her.

DoC: Your newest album also features use of a baritone guitar, an instrument I'm fascinated by. Why did you choose to use a baritone guitar? How does the sound differ from a bass or downtuned (7-8 string) guitar?

James: Honestly, when we walked into the Echo Lab to record Litany it was just sitting there and I couldn’t keep my hands off of it. I had a loose idea of how I wanted Cicatrix to sound and the baritone fit the hole between the Hammer Dulcimer, Daron’s vocals, and the regular guitar perfectly. The thing sounds great. It’s not sloppy like a down-tuned guitar and without the sub frequencies of a bass guitar.

Sean: I’ve even toyed with the idea of switching to baritone full-time - a 12-string electric baritone to be specific. I don’t know if any such thing exists, but it would certainly work nicely with our style of songwriting and make for some interesting arrangements.

DoC: Your debut was produced by Phillip Cope from Kylesa. How did this come about? What was the recording process like?

Sean: Our first album was an incredible and painstakingly necessary experience. Though we had all the material as ready as we thought we could be, none of us were prepared for recording and mixing a whole album’s worth of material in four days. We’d all had some casual recording experience, even Mike had recorded at the Jam Room some years past, but Phillip was really the only thing that kicked us in the ass to make that album happen in such a short amount of time. Without him we’d probably still be scratching our heads in the studio wondering where the past four years went.

James: Imagine being trapped in a small, dark, dank room with seven people, some of them stick-and-poke tattooing each other, all six Star Wars movies playing on repeat, and surviving on stolen PB and J’s for about four days. It was pretty much exactly like that.

DoC: Tell me about your new album, Litany. What was it like recording with Billy Anderson? What were your goals for the album, and how do you feel about the final result?

James: There was a certain weight our ideas for Litany carried that I hadn’t really experienced before recording. It was like standing before a great precipice or the moment before a swelling wave crests. I didn’t know if we could pull it all together into a cohesive thought. Without Billy’s experience and expertise, I don’t think we could have. Billy is a wizard, an actual wizard. He conjured things from all of us that we didn’t know were there and had jokes the entire session. Half the time I was just trying to keep up with his wit. It was my favorite recording experience to date.

Sean: Litany is our most ambitious work to date, and it has truly surpassed all of my expectations. Billy was a huge part in making that happen.

DoC: Tofu Carnage is a delightful name for a record label. What's your relationship with them?

Sean: I started Tofu Carnage as a moniker to release our debut album under. No one was really willing to release an album for a band no one had heard of with no shows or touring to back anything up, so I sought out to do it by my own means. The continuation of the label was more or less an accident, but nonetheless an obvious choice with the sheer amount of talent and creativity our friends surround us in their musical endeavors. It has been endlessly challenging learning how to run a small label, even more so than my musical capacity with Dead To A Dying World, but it is a very rewarding challenge.

DoC: Not long before I discovered Dead to a Dying World, I heard the Bay Area band Anopheli. Please tell me you're friends with them and a string-driven apocalyptic crust tour is eminent (or at least a split).

Sean: We have been friends with Alex from Anopheli for some time now, dating back to his time in Fall of Efrafa and Light Bearer. We haven’t formally planned anything together, though that would be a great tour, indeed.

DoC: Finish this sentence: "Texas is the reason..."

James: “... every summer I want to fucking die.”

DoC: What's next for Dead To A Dying World?

James: We are heading to Europe in April for two weeks, during which we will be appearing at both Roadburn and Doom Over Leipzig. Then it’s time to finish the next record.

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