Tuesday, March 13, 2018

interview: Huntsmen




Alright, alright, we got ourselves an interview with doomsters Huntsmen, and the band did take the interview seriously (much appreciated, boys!) and now we can learn about the Chicagoland group’s unique take on doom by way of braiding American folk music and postmetal into the fabric of their sound on the album American Scrap, which is now released and you can hear the entire work at the first link below.

Greetings to your band in Chicago. How are things going for your band now that you finished everything related to the recording of the album? Do you feel a sense of relief? How anxious are you all to find out if the people will understand your “storytelling doom”? Does it cross your mind that maybe your music is too out there?!
Thanks for taking the time to interview us! Things are going great with the band. Honestly, it’s really unexpected. We’d hoped at least some people would connect with it, but had basically zero expectations. Instead, we’re getting lots of really positive response from all around America and Europe. Some killer thoughtful reviews, interview questions, messages, comments, etc. that show people are getting it and connecting with it, and more importantly that it’s feeding them energy and excitement. All we care about.

There’s some relief now that the album is out, but we’re always looking forward. The concept and like… 50% of the next record are already written, haha! The biggest relief was wrapping up the tour we did to support the release. With that behind us we can focus totally on the next record.

I didn’t worry much about whether people would understand storytelling doom. I think we all understand storytelling, and we know when a story is told well or poorly. So we tried to just tell a good story, and we used the language we felt most equipped to use in the telling.

By the way, who is answering this interview? Can you clarify something about the album? Do you have multiple people on vocals? Is the growling and the singing done by different people?
This is Chris (guitar/singing/lyrics). Right you are, Marc (bass) and Ray (drums) contribute to all the vocals, though in some cases I’ll sing all the harmony lines on the recording of a song, but even for those tunes, we arrange it so the harmony can be sung live among the three of us. It’s important to us that we recreate those live. That’s what performers did in the old days, feels like such a missed opportunity to skimp on it today. And yeah, we all shift around between singing, screaming, shouting, etc. Ray is hilarious, he can sing like Geddy fucking Lee but sounds like a gore fueled berserker when he screams.

Now, what about the live shows? How do you handle the various vocal styles in the live environment? What has your experience been so far with the vocals during shows?
Between the 3 of us (and sometimes 4 with Aimee on the Last President), we recreate every harmony on the record live. We’ve been playing every month or two around Chicago for the last 5 years, and just wrapped up our first tour around the Midwest/east coast!

Congratulations on your new album! I have been listening to it and trying to join your wavelength. I’m curious about it. It’s just the right amount of heaviness and strange that I am interested, but I’m not very sure what you boys are doing! How many years ago was it when you began feeling like you guys had a good idea about what your sound is, what your brand of doom is?
Thank you very much! We really appreciate you giving it a solid listen and I hope you find something that you connect with on it. We initially had a vague concept of writing post-apocalyptic cowboy doom. This was maybe 5 years ago? By “cowboy doom” I mean we wanted to set a mood that makes you feel grimy, stuck out in the wilderness, alone and surviving off the land. Growing up in the U.S. South helped with some of the regional elements like folk, bluegrass, and country influences (Marc’s from Louisville, KY and I’m from Richmond, VA). I guess like most things in life, you realize there’s a reason you were pulled toward that thing, and eventually it turned out to be just the right home for us for exploring all kinds of emotions and concepts… isolation, yearning, revenge, hope, bitterness, indomitability, cruelty. As we were writing songs for American Scrap, we realized we were telling stories from the past, present, and future of America… what it was, and what it will be, if we don’t stop fucking up. So we leaned into that concept for the record.

How much is your sound of doom + postmetal + American folk is a coincidence? For instance, many bands have screamers and growlers, but it just so happens that you have someone that can sing, too. Is your singer a folk fan of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell (Oh, I know, Canadian), Peter Paul and Marry, Simon and Garfunkel, Woody Guthrie and so many others?
If I can sound like a tool for a minute, I think that when bands stop wondering “what should we sound like” and go with “how can we tell our best understanding of the truth”, you end up with the kind of coincidence you mention, and that’s my favorite kind of artist to experience, because it puts the listener in direct contact with the musicians, without a layer of artifice or manipulation. Between the four of us, we have a massive range of influences, including those you mentioned. Marc and Ray in particular have a crazy encyclopedic knowledge and love of both classical and contemporary music, all the way up to doom/stoner/post/black metal, and basically whatever bubbles up based on our instincts when writing is what comprises the song. A more straightforward answer is that we happened to be listening to a lot of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young leading up to writing this record, haha.

“Bury Me Deep” begins the album in a very nice way. You would think I’m listening to James Taylor. I find that I’m a little bit angry at you for making the song so short! You missed your chance at a radio hit, man ha ha! No, seriously, that’s a beautiful melody right there. It’s such a tease! Why so short?
Dude, glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the compliment. It isn’t meant to be a tease or anything else, really. Trying to think about why it’s so short… it is maybe the saddest, most personal and vulnerable song on the record for me. By the end of it I feel frankly really bitter and exposed, and just want to shut up and be done with it. We Americans aren’t very good with openness and vulnerability… that’s a window that closes quickly. So the length of the song reflects that, probably.

I feel that “Pyre” is a good representation of the melodic singing, the doom and overall sound of the album. Can you explain some basics for us? Why is the album called American Scrap? For instance, do you mean, “American Garbage”? I'm pretty sure that's not what you mean, but one of the reasons I have been listening to the album is because it is ambiguous and I am a bit uncomfortable with it, too.
Well, ya fucking nailed it, my friend. I didn’t even know why I named it what I did at the time. But some reflection leads me to think I wanted to take something that’s a lofty, vast, grandiose idea, a dream and impossibility, a living contradiction- America- and sit it next to something you can see and hold in your hand and go “huh, how about that.” But maybe what I’m happiest with is that basically any definition of scrap works in this case, and that’s pretty cool to go through and think of each one. I tend to like scrap as in scrap heap. That makes me think of a junkyard with an old rusty Thunderbird in it. You just look at it and you think of our country and it makes sense in a bunch of unsettling and exciting ways.



What is it about the story of the United States that attracted you to approaching your lyrics and concepts this way?
We all live here every day ignoring the gravity of our history, the richness of it, the intense varied beauty of the land populated by all manner of weirdo humans. Richness doesn’t have to mean morally good… it’s just intense, intricate, horrifying, fascinating, deep. It’s beautiful in its spectrum of humanity and inhumanity. My dad came here from China on a cargo ship in 1950, from great hardship, self-educated, by the skin of his teeth, to study at Duke and then some crusty old dude “quite racistly” blocked his PhD... and then he went on to open two of his own businesses. If that isn’t a story of the American Dream stumbling its drunk ass down the street and somehow making it home, I don’t know what is. And actually there’s something sublimely American about how that all went, in its awfulness and awesomeness.

As far as the record itself, I think exploitation- of workers (especially immigrants), of wars and the soldiers who fight them- is one of its biggest support struts and one of its deepest ironies. That’s why those things get so much airtime conceptually on the record.

Say, do you feel like you are, in part, anti-American? This is not exactly “This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land,” is it? Having the president kill her family and then herself at the end of the album, isn’t that taking the folk straight into the abyss of cynicism and negativity? Or maybe, you don’t feel like you are just another cynical metal band?! How do you feel about this country? How do you feel about Chicago as a city that you have experienced?!
One of my favorite reviews of the record so far recognizes the hope and optimism within it. I know they’re buried pretty deep (heh heh). I love and hate this country, and I think to say one is pro- or anti- American would be to enlist in the lack of depth and critical thinking that we are so often notorious for. Like… well what does America mean? What are you for, what are you against, specifically? I’m the son of an immigrant and my first record was Houdini by the Melvins. I grew up in the former capital of the Confederacy down the street from a statue of Stonewall Jackson and swam in the waterfalls of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a kid. I grew up breathing clean Virginia air and there’s nothing like it anywhere else. I never fit in anywhere because I was neither Chinese nor Caucasian, and yet somehow I found my niche and became my own person. I guess I hoped to offer my perspective of trying to figure out my place in this country, and observing her many contradictions, to the tapestry of stories we have about her.

Chicago… I’ll never get used to the winters, but I love the people of this city, I love their down-to-earth nature, work ethic, realness, community and commitment to one another. There’s something about it that makes me feel like I don’t have to pretend to be somebody I’m not. Easily one of my favorite cities in the world.

Regarding the song “The Last President”, the use of nuclear apocalypse, euthanasia, and suicide are meant to emphasize how dire the situation is. But when I think of her, I actually think of how much fortitude she must have had to endure those times, the courage to do what she did- to be able to speak the truth to the country about the impending end, to love her family so deeply that she spared them from the horror of death by atomic fire via a brutal act of self-sacrifice. I think she was maybe the best President.

Alright, well, I could you ask many more questions, but let me stop here, with some practical questions. What do you have planned for touring after this recent run with Livid? Will you be venturing outside of the Midwest?
It’s been a real pleasure, man. We’re playing Doomed and Stoned Fest in Chicago on June 2nd, which is going to fucking rip, along with Whores, The Skull, Sixes, and a whole bunch of our Chicago buddies like Scientist and Of Wolves. You’ll want to check that out if you’re in the area. Outside of that, we’re planning to do some targeted long weekend stints, regionally and then eventually out to the west coast. Keep an eye on our website for those to come up.

What do you feel are the next goals for the band after the album?
Write the next one, baby! And just keep getting the word out there.

Do you have more videos coming? I know you did one already for “Bury Me Deep”, but I mean a video with footage of the band on the stage.
We might have quite a lot on the way… but I can’t say too much yet, probably. I’ll say that our friend Hank Pearl (Black Pearl Photo) came along with us on our tour with Livid and shot tons of killer live footage that’s going to find its way to you, one way or another…

Thanks for your time!
thank YOU!


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