A Pregnant Light's Damian Master Has No Time for False Modesty
The Colloquial Sound Recordings mastermind and dizzyingly prolific "purple metal" musician opens up about his faith, his hubris, and Iron Maiden.
Photo courtesy of Damian Master
“Like secret magic that can’t be taught,” Damian Master howls at the beginning of his latest EP, “if you have it you know/if you doubt, you don’t.” Talking to the A Pregnant Light mastermind on the phone, it quickly dawns on me that those lyrics from Lucky All My Life’s ” Never Innocent, Frequently Not Guilty” could work as a credo for Master. Affable and calm, his voice radiates a matter-of-fact confidence that could only come from someone who knowing that they've created something special.
Spend an hour or two perusing Master’s voluminous body of work and his unwavering faith in himself will seem entirely justified. In between running his label Colloquial Sound Recordings and recording with a litany of other predominantly solo projects like Alluring, Aksumite, Dressed in Streams, Ornamental Headpiece, Purple Light, Secret Creation, and others, Master has released a staggering amount of recordings under his best-known guise, A Pregnant Light. APL’s signature “purple metal” blends the lo-fi grandeur of black metal with post-punk atmospherics, acoustic guitars, and bursts of punk intensity to create a dynamic and surprisingly sensuous sound, augmented by Master's provocative, viscerally emotive lyrics and seductive aesthetic.
Notorious for dropping multiple releases a year, Master recently released a new APL EP in late January 2018. Lucky All My Life is only four songs longs and clocks in at thirty minutes, but it’s packed with more riffs and melodic ideas than you could find on most band’s full-lengths. Earlier this week, I called up to Master about that penchant for shorter recordings, as well as his faith, his hubris, and Mount Rushmore.
Noisey: You’ve released a lot of EPs and demos over the years. I was wondering what attracts you to working in those shorter formats?
Damian Master: I’ve been a lifelong music consumer and I’ve noticed that people’s attention spans aren’t what they used to be. With the EPs and demo formats, it’s easier for people to digest. I think it’s an attractive format in the sense that people can take it in and—you know, I don’t want to say that people’s expectations are lower because it’s a demo or an EP, because I really strive to make everything I do worthwhile and cool. And if you look at the quantity of songs and the length of the music I’ve released since my last full-length album, it’s like three albums worth of material.
I do get a lot of people who are like ‘this is great, we can use a whole album of this!” but to some extent you want to leave people wanting more than having them go “oh, I didn’t need a 109 minutes of that.”
Does working in these short forms inspire you to experiment more with your songwriting? Since you only have like 15-30 minutes to get all your ideas on tape as opposed to having a 100 minutes to dick around with?
No, not really. I don’t really think about things like that... When I sit down and do the work, whatever comes comes out. Like the last thing I released—I wrote that in one night.
You mean Lucky All My Life ?
Yeah, I did that in one night. I wrote it all, recorded all the guitar parts, did the drums the next day. It’s one of those things where I work when I’m inspired and I don’t do anything else. It’s not uncommon for me to lock myself away for 15 hours and not eat or drink and just go until I have nothing left.
Is that part of the reason why you have so many other projects like Alluring and Aksumite? So when you don’t feel that burst of inspiration for one project, you can shift gears and focus on something else?
That’s fair—I hadn’t thought of that. With Alluring, that was a project that I did years ago and I hadn’t intended to abandon it for as long as I did, but sometimes you just wait until that inspiration comes.
Since we’re on the subject of inspiration, what was on your mind when you were writing Lucky All My Life? A lot of the lyrics talk about mortality and Fate: dodging hangmen, being hunted by Death, rolling dice…
Lyrically what was going through my head was I was looking at my life and all the ways that I, by all accounts, should be dead or at least in a very bad living situation. Somehow I’ve always managed to pull out of these things.
In past interviews, you’ve mentioned The Smiths as an inspiration. Did they influence how you approach your cover art? You use a lot of movie stills and B&W photography and it reminds me of the kind of aesthetic The Smiths were going for.
Yeah, 100 percent. For sure. And I put myself on a lot of the album covers, which people kind of scratch their head at. Online people’ll talk trash about that, and my response is “well, who am I supposed to put on the album? Your ugly ass?”
As far as Smiths inspiration goes, I don’t have too much Morrissey in my lyrics. Some people do force that comparison. I don’t see it, although maybe it’s subconscious. Musically, though, Johnny Marr is on my Mount Rushmore. The guitar layering, the way that he plays, the tunings..
If Marr is on your Rushmore, who are the other three heads?
Oh, I set myself up for that. Um… okay. Mark Kozelek, Steve Harris from Iron Maiden, and all the members of Discharge.
That’s a pretty diverse set of faces.
Not really—three out of four of them are English.It’s crazy to think about how much good music has come out of England. Pound for pound, it’s definitely the number one fighter of all time.
I wonder if that’s because of the dole system they had in place for so long. So many bands could be unemployed and make all the music they wanted and not to have worry as much about starving.
That sounds great.
I wish we had that kind of leeway in this country.
That’s a whole other conversation. Some guy tried to talk to me about universal basic income yesterday and I just pretended I had narcolepsy. I started nodding off. He probably thought I was either stupid or on heroin.
You’ve mentioned before in interviews about your belief in God and your own spiritual interests. I was wondering to what degree your faith informs your music? Does it have an influence on what you do as A Pregnant Light?
My faith plays a part in everything I do. It absolutely informs my worldview, but I’m not an Evangelical band. I certainly believe in God and I have a strong sense of my faith. But I’m also very open about everything else in my life and people respect that.
That’s one of the things I’m really proud about this project: in my scene, which is really anti-religious, specifically anti-Christian, someone like myself can exist and also have the respect and admiration of people who are diametrically opposed to that. It’s because they see that I’m not the things that they think that people who carry a certain faith are. It’s ridiculous to think that all Christians are bigots in the same way that it’s ridiculous to think that all Muslims are terrorists.
I think that’s one of the things about APL that really appeals to me. That rejection of typical metal imagery: demons, rotting corpses...
I look at it as humanist. That being said, my favorite bands of all time are groups like Iron Maiden and Neurosis. It’s like, Iron Maiden has a made-up ghoul on the front of their albums. One week he’s in Egypt and the next he’s in outer space. I love that stuff in metal, but I never felt the desire to push that imagery or vibe on what I’m doing because it’s not who I am.
Melodic metal has gained a lot more traction over the last few years with the raised profiles of groups like Deafheaven and Alcest. Have you noticed any increased interest in what you’re doing because of that?
I have no idea. I don’t know why people like my music or what they take from it. I’ve never heard Deafheaven before, so I don’t know what they sound like. I’ve heard Alcest, I thought they had some cool stuff, but that’s because I’m familiar with Peste Noire.
The funny thing about what I do is that I didn’t intend for it to be so different. I didn’t intend for it to be so markedly melodic. It’s still very aggressive and dark music. If you play A Pregnant Light for your average civilian versus some other more conventional black metal band, they’re not going to be able to tell a huge difference between them.
It’s not for me to judge. I’m just here to release my music and I try to do it humbly, although I’ve never been accused of being humble.
It beats false modesty.
The false modesty shit is just the worst. My friend Tim, who played on Lucky All My Life, told me something that I wrote down in my book of quotes. He said “people who don’t listen to their own bands should start another band they like more.”
I’m just writing music that I want to hear and that gets me fired up. So of course I think my band is amazing, of course I think my band is the best band in the world. Why wouldn’t I? If you think your stuff sucks, why would you want anyone to listen to it?
Ashley Naftule is purple reigning on Twitter.