Burning the Effigy: Old Man Gloom on Old Friends, Experimentalism and 'The Ape of God'
Stream a new track from the supergroup (mem Isis, Converge, Cave In) and check out an interview with Aaron Turner
In 2012 after eight years away, Old Man Gloom suddenly and unceremoniously reunited and dropped off NO, the band's new album. The surprising move from the hardcore/sludge supergroup (made up of members of Cave In, Converge, Isis and more) was a shock to the community, who held their previous effort, Christmas, in such high regard. After the dust settled, it became clearer that NO was a worthy follow-up and once again, Old Man Gloom had regained their throne as one of the most cohesive supergroups in heavy music. Two years later and building off of the momentum of NO is the band's latest effort The Ape of God, due via Profound Lore/SIGE on Nov 11th. Stream the new tracks "Predators" and "The Lash," the former of which makes it's debut below.
With the new record on the way via a new label home, we asked Aaron Turner, formerly of the much loved Isis as well as Mamiffer, Split Cranium, House of Low Culture and others, a few questions about his process, textural music and getting back with a crew of old friends. Head below for more.
In addition, look out for a full documentary on the return of Old Man Gloom launching on Thursday.
Noisey: A good bit of your projects have dark ambient elements to them and/or are a bit more on the experimental side. Old Man Gloom may be your most traditional project. It felt like you were doing ISIS then that ended, then you went deeper and deeper into an experimental realm (not only you, but with SIGE as well), but then it’s almost a return to where you were before.
Aaron Turner: I can understand that from an outside perspective. In a certain way, I guess there was a certain break for me that was intentional in terms of trying to do a heavy rock band again. Old Man Gloom never called a formal hiatus to what we were doing it just got to a point where we were spread out all over the place and everybody was busy with their other bands. When we were finally able to reconvene I guess I had had a little bit of time to recharge in a way where I had spent some time on music that was more contemplative or serene in nature in some way more experimental.
The drive to make heavy music has never really dissipated for me, and I think there is some circumstantial stuff and then also the mechanics of being in a band for me was something I needed to step back from for a while.
I mean Mamiffer is a band in a certain way but on a much different level. It’s not a set cast of people that are always working together it’s basically the core duo of Faith and I and then a bunch of other people who come and go as needed or as desired. So, part of the stuff that has gone on in terms of me doing stuff that’s more experimental in nature versus doing stuff that’s heavier is circumstantial and part of it was intentional; just feeling like I didn’t have anything to offer as far as writing heavy music went.
Even at the last year or two of ISIS I just felt like it was really difficult for me to dredge up anything I felt excited about when I picked up my guitar so I think I needed to just do some other things for a while. That really changed my perspective and broadened it so that when it does come time for writing riffs ,I feel energized and charged to do it.
Makes sense. That said, why did you go back to Old Man Gloom? You could have just started a new project.
Our history together is the main emphasis. We’ve been friends for a really long time and like I said before, the hiatus we took wasn’t intentional. It was just our life circumstances made it impossible for us to get together, then it seemed like it was just the right time for us to start doing things again. It’s never really anything more than intermittent bursts of extremely intense activity – that’s just kinda the way we operate. I think that works well for all involved. But really the core driving force behind the band is us liking to be around each other, feeling like we can create with great ease and spontaneous joy, and that’s what makes it workable and that’s what makes it fun. I think that’s what renders the results that we get. I think if we all were in approximately the same place, we would do this more often. But we do it as often as we can, and enjoying each other’s company and what comes out of the mingling is really what makes it worth while for all of us, I think.
When NO came out, it was kind of a surprise to a lot of people. It felt like a left field move, considering the roll out and where you were creatively.
We basically didn’t say anything about it and then we booked some shows and it basically made the record available at the shows. We definitely wanted it to be a surprise, and we’ve done as much as we can to try to toy with peoples’ perceptions of what we’re doing, and also with the context of the world that we’re operating in. All of those prankster elements of what we’re doing are very much intentional.
I’m curious about the new record and the fact that clearly you’re associated with Hydrahead, which is still kind of living even though you’re not putting out new records or anything. Then there’s SIGE, then there’s Profound Lore. And you’re so heavily associated with both HH and SIGE. Why exactly did you decide to go outside of this realm, did you want some kind of space from being the “man behind the curtain?"
Yeah, definitely. With the exception of SIGE, which is pretty much founded with the purpose of releasing work that Faith and I are involved with, Hydrahead only released stuff that I was involved with when I felt like there wasn’t another option that could provide the same kind of resources, outlets and presentations. There were instances where certain projects I did could have found homes elsewhere, but to be honest I felt like the people that maybe would have been receptive to doing it wouldn’t have done as good a job as we were capable of doing.
In other instances, there were opportunities for bands I’ve been in, for ISIS, or, in this case, Old Man Gloom, where I felt like there were other people who were into it and who could operate on the same level of quality as what Hydrahead or SIGE is capable of doing, and in some cases provide a lot more. The reach of SIGE and Hydrahead at this point is pretty limited and I make music because I want people to hear it so if there’s a possibility to work with someone else who I feel comfortable working with I’m always open to that.
With Profound Lore, that came about from having done other things with Chris, he did an ISIS live LP some years back, I think that must have been around 2005 or 2006, something like that, that was our first instance of working together though I’d known him for years prior. That was our initial working experience, it was the low profile, low key thing, but I liked it and I’ve always enjoyed what he’s done with the label. A couple years ago I did the Mamiffer/Locrian record with him and I think that was also a really positive experience. He was just super supportive, really helped get the release out there, and that was a nice experience for all involved. So when it came time for the new Old Man Gloom record I knew that Chris had liked NO, so I kept in contact with him through trading records and keeping in touch. We started talking about it, and I felt like it was really the best place for us to be, because Profound Lore is obviously oriented toward heavy music, but I feel like they’re pretty broad in their approach. They’ve definitely got a pretty experimental angle to their output and it just felt like a good place to be. I think he’s got a built in audience to some degree, and also I feel like he has a broad enough reach where the people who already like us would easily find us through that outlet.
I recently had a conversation and a comparison was made and I wanted to hear what you thought of it. This person said that they thought that Profound Lore now is similar to where Earache, Relapse, and Hydrahead were at specific points as far as consistency in releases, and a “stamp of quality,” if you will. Do you agree with that assessment?
Definitely. That’s one of the things that drew me to Profound Lore in the first place. I feel like Chris has definitely got a curatorial approach to the whole label, it’s not just like a “hey, I’m gonna throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach. He gets behind things that he feels very excited about and even though there is kind of a broad spectrum of stuff he’s doing, it does seem like there is continuity. It would be hard to define that, but it’s definitely there, there’s a spirit behind the label that’s very apparent in the presentation and in the output. I think that’s really important.
I think Chris is in an interesting space in terms of what he occupies in the market, to put it crassly, where he’s doing things in an underground way where he’s doing a lot of it himself and he is not choosing things based off of what he thinks he can sell. On the flipside of that, he has got peoples’ ear and I think that’s great, people who do look to that label for their consistency and I think that’s a great place to be as a band.
It feels good to be amongst other bands that are really creatively pushing themselves and to be part of something that has momentum. There’s certainly plenty of other labels that are as big or quite a bit bigger but I think that the heart behind it, and the quality of the output is the most important thing, especially these days, where I feel like some kind of personality and strong intention is really important.
Going into the new record, NO was sort of a “comeback” record of sorts, being away and such. Now that you’re “back,” what were some of your goals with the new record and did you approach it any differently?
I think the biggest pressure for me personally was just a creative one. There’s something I’ve been working towards with OMG, since the beginning which is the integration of abstract non-musical or textural elements with more conventional metal song structure and how those things can work with each other or play off of each other – what that kind of contrast can mean and do for a listener. With this record specifically, I tried really hard to make a more seamless synthesis of those two worlds. In a lot of the other records, it was split up in a more jarring and kind of cut and paste fashion where it was hard transitions between noise or ambient bits with the songs themselves. In this record, I really wanted to try to figure out how those things can be grafted onto each other or interwoven in a way that was really complimentary and made them more of a singular thing rather than these bits that were sort of stitched together.
In a way, some of that absurd or surrealistic feeling of the past records is still there, and I feel like that’s still important to do. I want there to be things that jump out as being surprising or in some way counter intuitive to what people are expecting. In another way, I also wanted to see how these things could work together. For me, that was the biggest challenge, since that end of production is mostly in my realm.
Beyond that, I think for us as a group, the goals are still the same, to have fun writing the songs, to produce as much as we can in the time we’re allotted, I think there’s somewhat of a progression in terms of what we were capable of doing just because we have been more active in the past couple of years. We played some live shows and I feel like our chemistry is jelling a bit more because of that, so the parts of the record that are more straight forward songs have a better flow to them and maybe a little bit more consistency, or a little better in the “performance” arena as a whole.
For a lot of people, understanding ambient music that’s textural and less about traditional songwriting and more about kind of feeling and mood is a hard realm for a lot of people to break into. What would you say are some records or bands that pushed you into those realms?
I think there’s some things that straddle the line that weren’t necessarily “gateway records.” In a way, I guess they were. Earth Vol 2 would be a really good example. I heard that record for the first time maybe around ’97 or ’98, and that really opened my eyes to the possibility of guitar beyond just a vehicle for riff. Certainly riffs are central to the composition of that record but it also stretches the boundaries quite a bit, there’s no drums, there’s a heavy emphasis on drone, on texture, and on atmosphere, yet there is very clearly a strong intention and a lot of momentum in the music. So that was definitely an early one for me.
Godflesh would definitely be another one where there was a lot of evidence in the songs that weren’t necessarily identifiable as specific instruments and had a feeling that was more akin to noise than, you know, rock music. I think some other things that are sort of along those lines for me that are in an in-between world like The Dead C would be another good one, where it’s drum bass and guitar, but it’s so heavily abstracted and so far away from rock music at times that it’s kind of other worldly and gives enough to hold onto in terms of identifiable reference points but I think also goes far enough out that it becomes something else all together.
Then there was a couple of other people early on that I encountered that I think were important for me to, like Lull. Lull still had the heaviness, in terms of atmosphere, but structurally it was completely different from a lot of the music I was listening to at the time. Swans is another really good one, a lot of the stuff I really enjoyed was the non-song stuff, the more ambient pieces, and also the way those things were integrated – these textural sort of mood pieces that slowly morphed into songs, and the transitions that happened were really exciting for me to discover.