I’m not a fan of long, drawn out intros to interviews, so I’ll just say this: Despond, the debut full length from Nashville Tennessee’s Loss, is the best doom album of 2011. I spoke with bassist John Anderson and guitarist Tim Lewis via e-mail about this masterpiece of monolithic misery, which is available now from our friends at Profound Lore.
THKD: First of all, why doom? What is it about the genre that you find inspiring? What is it about doom that you identify with on a personal or even a spiritual level? What does doom mean to you?
John Anderson: For us, I believe we were all drawn to the scale and the range of Doom, and we’re grateful to those who have identified so well with what we’ve done so far, because that validates our take on the style, which is somewhat unconventional. For every variety of doom that’s out there now, there is another way of looking at what it can mean to people. That’s an inspiration in itself, because it means many different things to us. Doom is not just heavy, it’s burdensome. That burden, in turn, reflects our lyrical content, which takes something that might have been just angry or dark and pushes it over to bleak and mournful, by personalizing it. Outside of doom, though, such emotion is represented more commonly by quiet, subtle music – and while that is part of what we do, we don’t feel that consistent subtlety would be realistic. Feelings like these are huge, present, and terrible, even as they crawl.
THKD: Nashville, Tennessee isn’t the first place most people think of when they think metal. How (if at all) have your surroundings helped or hindered Loss’ music? Do you receive much local support?
JA: Nashville isn’t the place that most people assume it would be. From the outside, thanks to the media and the industry here, we’re thought of as a country music bastion filled with rednecks and shoeless yokels. Those people are here, for sure, but every town has their share. They just have different accents. What’s not really said of Nashville is that we also have our share of everything else, including just about any style you might like – just on a smaller scale. People think it’s a bigger city than it is, and that’s where the frustration kicks in on both sides. Everybody plays something, but there’s a lot of apathy. I’m sure that sense of apathy has driven us as a band to some degree, and this can certainly be a depressing pace to live at times. We do have local support, though. I suppose some of the people here, at least, share our outlook.
THKD: Your debut album, Despond was just released by Profound Lore. What were the circumstances surrounding its creation? What frame of mind were you in while creating these songs?
JA: There were as many frames of mind in the writing process as there are changes within the course of each song, really. The process was long and very much tied to the emotional states that each of us went through – good and bad, and often at different times than the other members, which created a rough terrain for getting things done. It also created a lot of challenges for us as artists, though, and I think both the album and band are stronger because of all of the struggling. Had this album been completed and released a few years ago – as it could very well have been — it would not be the complete thought or the manifestation of four minds that it is today. Growth can be painful, and growth within the context of such emotionally raw music even more so, but I will always be glad that we pushed through and didn’t settle on anything less than what is on that disc right now.
THKD: How would you describe your writing process for Loss? Is creating this music a sort of catharsis for you? A way of coping, perhaps?
Tim Lewis: The writing process always seems to begin with a skeletal idea that seems to make the rounds to each member and each one of us will write, scratch, and re-write until we feel the song is full bodied. Sounds like we’re brewing beer huh? Seriously though, this is what took so long in the creation of Despond. We scrapped complete songs and various movements in songs that are on the record until it was to our liking. If we didn’t feel it was right, we started over. Try to imagine the tension in the room while giving the axe to a part either one of us or all of us created and starting from scratch. It wasn’t a fun place to be if you were an outsider. If you are one us, you get over it and realize this is for the greater good. This band is absolutely our therapy, so it is most definitely a coping agent for each of us. When we listen to a completed song and it makes the hairs on our arms stand up, (as an outsider looking in) we know we have written something special that was worth all the effort.
THKD: Tell us a little about the recording sessions for Despond. How would you describe your experiences while committing these songs to tape?
JA: There is definitely a ritualistic aspect to capturing what we do. Aside from all of the technical concerns in getting the sounds right, we had to leave a lot of things off the tape – metaphorically speaking – in order to capture what is important: The real essence of the song, as it will be preserved forever. To meet us on the street, or even in the hallway of a studio, you wouldn’t guess that we make the kind of music that we make. People cannot live the way our music is at all times. They wouldn’t survive it. So, there is a place each of us has to go when the tape begins to roll, or the whole thing simply won’t work. And if you over-think it, it won’t work. It has to be natural. You have to go those places described in the songs, and swim in those waters again, so to speak. Not lose yourself, but gain yourself, I would say.
THKD: Themes of death and suicide are prevalent in Despond’s lyrics. Are your lyrics based on personal experiences? Are themes of life and death an integral part of doom metal?
TL: This record was composed and finally conveyed to tape through 100% personal empiricism. The misfortunes and tragedies we experienced trying to complete this record were overwhelming in many cases. Adversity definitely presented guidance throughout the process until we reached its finality. As far as themes, life and death are a very important part of all art forms. The doom genre goes without saying. The theme of most doom falls under death, disease, shortcomings, the weather, dark contemplation, grandiose philosophy and so on. All the aforementioned themes still ultimately are categorized under life or death. So our answer to your “theme” question after all this is, “yes”.
THKD: Obviously, Despond is a very dark, heavy, oppressive/depressive album. Is there any hope at all to be found within its confines? Any light at the end of the tunnel? Why or why not?
TL: It is quite a depressing record to us. As far as hope is concerned, it was not written with hope being the champion in the end. Beautiful moments are quite present in movements throughout the record, only to have it crushed when the waves of (musical) depression move in. A calm before the storm, so to speak. Ultimately, this is a record to be experienced by the individual listener and to be decided by them what they find within.
THKD: In listening to Loss one can hear doom, but also traces of death metal, black metal and even noise/ambient. What/who are your biggest musical inspirations, and how do they play into the music you create with Loss?
TL: I think every artist or band we have ever heard (great or horrible) has played some kind of inadvertent influence upon our creative style. I think it’s that way with most artists, whether they care to admit it or not. Even something horrible will steer you to NOT PLAY A CERTAIN STYLE and in that, there is influence.
THKD: Brett Campbell of Pallbearer appears on the song “Silent and Completely Overcome”. What lead you collaborate with him?
JA: Mike (Meacham, vocalist/guitarist) actually came up with this idea while working out how the vocals would be placed. He heard a clean voice in his head for that part, but not his own, and since he’d been very impressed with Pallbearer’s demo already, he sent the song to Brett to lay a vocal track over it, without telling the rest of us. He was afraid we’d all shoot down the idea of having any sort of guest vocalist, and he was probably right. But, when we heard the demo, we were all beside ourselves with how perfect it was. Even the rough demo was amazing. It was sealed from that point, and we all became huge fans of Pallbearer, needless to say.
THKD: Let’s talk a little about Richard Friend’s artwork for the album. How did you come to collaborate with him? Was the artwork created specifically for the album or were these already existing pieces? What does his artwork add to the total experience of Despond?
JA: I stumbled across Richard’s artwork while searching through the DeviantArt website for possibilities. It was actually the piece we used for the back cover of the CD that caught my attention, as it was part of a larger series that he called his “Black Drawings.” Ironically, when we contacted him about those pieces, to see if he might be interested in doing some more work like that for us, he was surprised. Apparently, nobody else really talked about that particular series, so he figured nobody really “got” what he was going for. We all loved them, though, so we took a series of concepts that Mike and I had created, based around the lyrics for the songs, and sent them over. Needless to say, the results were amazing. Not only did he create some amazing art, but he was an incredibly cool guy to work with. He went above and beyond to make those pieces turn out as we had envisioned them. Given that they are all custom pieces, save for the back cover that already existed, they are worth more to the album experience than any sentence I can come up with here. We can’t say enough nice things about Richard.
THKD: Will you be doing any touring or playing any shows in support of Despond? How would you describe the Loss live experience to someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to see you play live?
JA: It’s hard to objectively describe what we’re like on stage. I’d love to know what it’s like to stand in the audience and not know the material, or to know the songs as anyone but the four of us would, but that’s not possible. I’ll let the reviews speak on that one. We do have some shows planned for the rest of the year — like the Rites of Darkness III festival in Texas, more shows in Nashville, and a few other shows in cities around the country that have not yet been finalized – but we stick with particular appearances rather than full tours. If any promoters are looking to book us, we can be reached at lossdoom (at) gmail (dot) com.
THKD: What are you currently listening to? Do you have any recommendations for THKD readers? What are some recordings you consider essential?
TL: Over the past few days I have been listening to 40 Watt Sun, Necros Christos, Beherit (as always), Lycus, Anhedonist, Ealdath, Pallbearer, Diocletian, and at the moment of this interview, Witchchrist.
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
We’d like to thank everyone who has written a review of the album so far. They have all been great, and it’s good to know that people get what we’re doing.
Fatum Vestri Vita…Doom Your Life.