Friday, May 6, 2022

an interview with Tzompantli

Tzompantli is a rising death/doom entity based in Pomona, CA, which utilizes indigenous Mesoamerican themes and instrumentation to personalize their oppressive sound. With their first full-length Tlazcaltiliztli out now through 20 Buck Spin, I reached out to the band to find out more about their origins. Founder/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Itztekwanotl was kind enough to answer my questions in record time. [Special thanks to David Brenner from Earsplit PR for facilitating this interview.]

photo: Elena Chute

Dreams of Consciousness: What is Tzompantli?

Tzompantli means "skull rack" in the Nahuatl language, it was a big part of the ritual sacrifice that the Mexica did. I thought it would be a good name to encompass the brutality and ritualism of the music. We blend styles of death metal, funeral doom and indigenous folk.

DoC: Please give a brief history of your Tzompantli - what led you to start the project? How clear of an idea did you have of the type of music you wanted to make when you started?

We started in 2019. I had some doom parts written/ideas, so I wrote some death metal parts around them. I was going for a Disembowelment vibe with simple death metal riffs but with crushing doom parts with clean guitar leads over it. I also wanted to include my culture, its history and lore with the use of folk instruments to set the vibe and help with the atmosphere. I'm a fan of so many native indigenous black metal bands and wanted to do a death doom version of that. So I'd say I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do with this project.

DoC: Your first EP, Tlamanalli, came out in 2019, and was re-released the next year by Transylvanian Tapes. How close was this recording to your original conception of the band? How do you feel about the EP now?

It came very close to what I had in mind, but I knew I could do more with better resources and recording. But it still came out great despite it. I still think the EP is great and sounds good for a bedroom recording.

DoC: Tell me about your songwriting process - how do songs typically start for you? Does your approach to writing songs for Tzompantli differ from your other projects?

I will usually have a riff or drum pattern in my head. I will record it and work around that, building and adding to it. I will rearrange it if need be. I constantly listen to it and if I feel good about it I will stop listening to it for a few days or a week later to hear how I feel about it with "fresh ears". Then I will add folk instruments and vocals/lyrics after.

DoC: Your first album Tlazcaltiliztli is out through 20 Buck Spin. How long have you been working on this album? What were your intentions for it when you started? How would you compare the music on Tlazcaltiliztli to your first EP, Tlamanalli?

I started working on this album off and on between early 2020 til the spring of 2021. I definitely wanted this record to have a proper recording production. I also wanted to add more folk instruments and songs into it. Compared to Tlamanalli, the production is way better. I would say I feel like I got a little better in vocal delivery and placement on this one too.

DoC: From the band name to the song titles to some of the instrumentation, Native/Indigenous American themes are prominent throughout your music. Is there an overarching/unifying "concept" to Tlazcaltiliztli? How would you compare the use of native themes in your music to the way a band like Nile uses Egyptian themes?

I didn't really have a concept in mind for the record, I just wanted to share the history, lore and spiritual ritualism of the Mexica. With that said, I think ritualism and sacred ceremony would be a recurring theme in a few of the songs. When I discovered Nile in the early/mid 2000s, I always thought to myself "I wish there was a band like this but Mexica (aztec), or native indigenous themes." So I'm glad that I was finally able to create this project.

DoC: The album was produced by Erol ("Roly") Ulug from Teeth, who also contributed session drums. How did Roly get involved with this album? What would you say he brought to your sound, as both a producer and drummer?

Me and Erol go way way back. He recorded my first band's first demo back in 2004. So we have been homies for a long time. I was a fan of mostly all of his bands and knew he still recorded. I was doing a project called Mortuary Punishment that he recorded. I expressed that I wanted to come back in the studio for the Tzompantli full length, I asked him if he would be down to session drum and he said yes! I would say he brought a lot of good performances out of me while I tracked instruments. He also got great guitar tones and beefed them up. He added his own groove to the drums too with fills and other improvising that made it sound way better than when I originally programmed. He exceeded my expectations with how big and menacing I wanted this record to sound.

DoC: Tlazcaltiliztli utilizes traditional Mesoamerican instruments and percussion. What were the instruments you used, and how important are they to your overall sound? Are there any additional challenges in integrating these elements on a death metal album (either in the writing or recording process)?

I didn't find it hard at all to incorporate them in both tracking and writing. Like I said, I would get the music fleshed out and before adding the instruments. I used lots of shakers and shells, huehuetl (percussion drums), teponaztli (percussion made of hollow wood with slits), and death whistles.

DoC: How did 20 Buck Spin get involved with this release?

I have always been a huge fan of the label,and their releases, so I messaged them asking if they would be interested. I shared the album and they messaged me back pretty quickly saying they would love to put it out. I was beyond stoked because they were my first choice when I was thinking of labels I'd want to ask.

DoC: Do you have any plans to put together a live line-up, and to play shows or tour?

I definitely want to play live. I don't have anything planned yet but a few ideas in the works.

photo: Elena Chute

DoC: What's next for you?

I am slowly writing new stuff for all of my bands so keep an eye out for that. Go listen to the new singles and pre-order the record on the 20 Buck Spin website. I appreciate everyone that has helped me along the way as well as everyone that takes the time to listen and check out my music. Tlazokomati (thanks)

Tzompantli on IG

Tzompantli on Facebook

Tzompantli on Bandcamp

Tlazcaltiliztli on 20 Buck Spin Bandcamp

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