Thursday, May 23, 2019

an interview with Megaton Leviathan

Not only do Portland's Megaton Leviathan have one of the best band names I've come across in a long time, but their last album Mage is one of the best I heard in 2018 - their heavy, droning sound is filled with hidden details that only reveal themselves through repeated listens. Mainman Andrew James Costa was kind enough to fill me in on the band's history and his songwriting process.

Dreams of Consciousness: What is Megaton Leviathan?

It's become an outlet for me to express my spiritual endeavors and personal experiences. It can be my black mirror in which I scry, it can be my guiding light, it can be my my rock n roll fantasy, it’s the reason why I wear sun glasses at night. I am a big man, 6’4 and over 300 pounds at this point. I can’t help but to be heavy, it's my lot in life. I carry it well enough. My question is, can you handle it?

DoC: First of all,  we need to talk about your band name (which comes from a Judas Priest song, and one of the greatest metal anthems of all time). Why did you choose it?

OK, well, when I moved to Portland, I was pretty loaded all the time, and my life was kind of on a dark path. I remember being straight out of my mind nodding out to Judast Priest spinning on my turntable , and I was vibing to the music, and the lyric “Mega Town Leviathan, ready to hit the roof” stood out to me, and I was like, "Yeah, if I get my shit together again and start a new band, I'll name it Megaton Leviathan".. eventually I did get my shit together and did just that. I deliver the goods, ace. I think it represents to me my true will in life and my need to create art/ music/ experience, and it’s the kind of living it up I'm meant to be doing.

DoC: Please give a brief history of your band - when did you form, and what did you set out to accomplish?

I started jamming with a drummer Matt Brim in the fall out of my previous bands Billy Dirt Cult / Theda Bara, where I made a departure from being in bands with Billy Kyle (who is currently at the helm of this bad ass doom band called Will). We just butted heads like brothers. Anyway, the early beginnings [of ML] was summer of 2007 or 2008, I wanted to do more trippy things and the punk n destroy vibe left my being. I knew I wanted to do some mid/down tempo stuff and I wanted to experiment with psychedelia and things. I would jam with a few people trying to find a good fit, the guitar tech for ZZ top was most notable and random. Nothing really took in the band room, but I started to track my ideas in the DAW and I got 2 albums worth of stuff. So by 2009 I had a solid idea of what form this thing would take.

So Chris Beug entered. He had been in bands with the Weaver Brothers/Wolves In The Throne Room, and he had a plan for us… so I let it happen. That’s pretty much the short version. We did a lot of Pacific Northwest shows, and even a US tour with WITTR. We went through a lot of line up changes and experimented with backing tracks in the early days… I set out to make art and to bring the heavy, but I wanted to do it my way without compromise, and to be able to do whatever the hell I wanted with it; so far things are going as planned.

DoC: Like a lot of bands I interview for this blog, it's hard to figure out where Megaton Leviathan fit musically - there are elements of incongruous genres like metal, post punk, goth rock, electronica and shoegaze. How would you describe the music you make? If you could compare Megaton Leviathan to any artist (past or present), who would it be? Who do you see as your peers, if anyone?

I don’t care about fitting in, for me it's about blazing a path. It's not the easy way but it's more rewarding and fun/ interesting. Yeah, there’s iron in my blood so I'm undeniably metal but it's not the attitude I exude. I gravitated to punk , goth and experimental things the more I got into music. I like minimalists like Suicide, Spacemen 3 and the kraut rock greats like Can, Tangerine Dream, etc. I rock the Sisters Of Mercy and Skinny Puppy too, but I could care less about “goth cred”. personally I think vampires are lame. Recently I had the pleasure to fill in for Tommy L Cyborg on the 2017 Chrome Euro tour, I played on the Chrome album Techromancy.

So yeah, I think [Chrome frontman] Helios Creed is def someone I admire as far as musical creativity and legacy are concerned. He and I became pretty damn good friends, and that’s been the honor of a lifetime. He's family for sure. I can relate to a lot of his stories, and his trials and tribulations as an artist, but he's from a different era- but I also commiserate with him on the challenges artists face in today's environment. ML sounds nothing like Chrome, but I can relate to it in a lot of ways. It’s a band you really can’t pin down. I guess ML is “doom” in the way that Chrome is “punk”.

DoC: Megaton Leviathan uses a few instruments not traditionally associated with heavy music, including synths and violin. How did you decide to include these elements?

Why not? Andrea [Morgan] came into the picture right when we started production for Mage - I was going to put her on synths, but she's a concert violinist, so I had her play HER instrument, and kept Mort Subite on live synths. We had her sing as well, I think it came out well. On the previous album Past 21 I asked Henry Barns of Amps for Christ to play sitar, and he gave me some noise tracks to boot, and Kris Force wrote and arranged strings on the song "Past 21". We like to shake it up and add different elements if possible. It’s the experimental side of the project.

DoC: Near the end of last year you released your third album Mage. Where was it recorded? How long had you been working on it, and what was the writing process like? How would you compare it to your previous albums?

I started writing it in December 2016. It just kinda oozed from me and was effortless. I think a year later or so we began the production - incorporating all the strings, guest spots, tracking real drums etc. It was fun, and we came together as a sextet, and were hoping to tour as one but things didn't work out that way. Most bands are lucky if they last 3-5 years anyway. So it's just best to have guests come in and out, and proceed as it dictates.

DoC: Every time I listen to Mage, I come away with a different impression. There are a lot of elements to it that aren't obvious on the first listen. What was your ultimate goal for the album? What do you want the listener to experience while listening to it? 

I wanted it to be a rich listening experience - there’s a lot of layers to it, and Mort Subite did a exceptional job mixing it. I wanted to make a statement with the album, that we are moving forward with our sound - we aren’t sticking to any one idea.

DoC:  Mage was co-released by Blood Music, who have an extremely unusual and eclectic roster. How familiar were you with the label before you signed with them, and what would you say you have in common with the other bands they have released?

Well, Blood Music straight up released it. I actually knew nothing about Blood until it became an option for us. Everyone was telling us we needed to sign, so we did it. It was a 4 album deal that ended fairly quickly. Immediately after the album dropped, the label owner posted on his media outlets that he was not doing too well, and the releases for that quarter didn’t reap as much of a reward as he had sought, and there were other issues at hand. I think its something most label owners and anyone who has released a record can relate to. It just seemed like it was a good time to exit.

I think we were on Blood for about a year before we mutually dissolved our relationship. So I really don’t have a real opinion about them. I have nothing good or bad to say. Other than I believe we will be self-releasing from here on out.

DoC: How often do you get to play live, and how difficult is it to recreate your recorded material?

Right now we play/do a string of regional (Portland / Seattle/ Oakland) shows maybe twice a year. We might step it up once we have some things in motion. As for now, Mage didn’t go as well as we had hoped so we are still biding our time, so to speak. In the early days we had a lot of difficulty re-creating songs live - it really suffered, but nowadays we did enough experiments and road tests that we got it pretty dialed. We can pretty much do anything we recorded live at this point.

DoC: What's next for Megaton Leviathan?

We are planning the release of a music video for the fall and some shows. No specifics just yet. We are already working on our next album and getting things in gear for that. We just underwent a line up overhaul – some new players live and in the studio, so no more live violin. We have some other things up our sleeves however, we hope to always bring something as good as ever but different each time.

Megaton Leviathan on Facebook

Megaton Leviathan on Bandcamp

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