The Unravelling are like a breath of fresh, haunting, brutal, skilfully written air. Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, they’ve been together for about a year and are getting ready to put out their debut full length album, 13 Arcane Hymns. With tactfully diverse music that’s overflowing with a bloodthirsty passion, it’s going to be an album, as well as a career, that’ll please and keep listeners interested all the way through.
13 Arcane Hymns is set to be released soon, so what stage are you at right now with it? Gus: Nice question. I'm feeling a bit like Edward Scissorhands' father the night before he planned on surprising Edward with his new hands - full of nervous, manic, energy. All of the Pro Tools sessions for the big hand over to our mix/mastering engineer are being worked on by myself and Steve on a day to day basis. And we're adding in little extras here and there to surprise our listeners. I get a kick out of adding in subliminal messages and hidden snippets in songs so consider yourselves warned.
Steve: And I feel like Edward about to get his new hands - deep gratitude. We're going through all the songs with a fine tooth comb, questioning everything, but also trying to know when to let go. I'm always tempted to redo vocal parts or add extra lyrics so I have to stop myself from being a perfectionist. Flaws are more interesting actually.
You describe one of the themes in the upcoming album as one of being buried alive, getting out and then moving forward. Can you talk about that a bit more? Gus: Steve should be credited for this concept. While writing the lyrics to the songs this theme kept on reoccurring so the man went with it. It was his baby from the beginning and now it has sprouted wings and opened its eyes. I've personally found many avenues of growth throughout this process so in that sense I can't help but embrace it. I think people will take notice of this attempt to create something dark, mysterious and original because this ongoing age of rewarding fickle music and idolizing pop stars must be hacked away at the roots.
Steve: The themes are both metaphorical and literal for me. I think if you delve deep into most people's ideas and feelings about themselves and the world around them, they tend to feel excluded from participating in a dynamic way, they usually feel misunderstood or ignored completely. It's easy to realize with a little introspection that most of us are not truly living at all. Mindlessly going to your day job, updating your Twitter status, buying a product on EBay and then tuning into "Grey's Anatomy" is not living. Personal fears and traumas help cause this zombie-mode and defeatist attitude as well. I've gone through some personal deaths that helped this metaphor along and the philosophy of the album is similar to a slogan I have seen the Zapatistas use: "No retreat. No surrender." Not in a collective sense but in a personal sense of destroying your own obstacles. It's difficult to find real microphones in this day and age, not the ones the media lends you. You can scour all the major and indie news networks for days without hearing an uncensored opinion or genuine voice. This album is about speaking to that world from outside of that structure, so it's almost like a different language but I hope it comes across well.
What other themes or ideas can we expect to hear in this album? Steve: The album is a bit rare in that it gives equal voice to both creation and destruction as a form of catharsis and honest expression. I realized this afterward but it takes a neutral view of both of them. So there are constructive concepts on the album about self belief, spirituality, determination, evolution and so forth, and there are also destructive ideas about inducing chaos, violence and insanity. I see it as a very positive album in that it's decidedly open.
Gus: Well, from a musical standpoint I can vouch for a few themes that I love to infuse in my creations. Darkness, the occult and psychedelia. Mysterious atmospheres where people can feel free to trip out on hallucinogens and be taken on introspective journeys while listening to the record. That would make my day if someone wrote us and told us about some insane adventure they had with our music as their inspiration.
You call the album a “psycho-analytical concept album.” Was that what you had intended for the record from the start? Steve: I have expressed myself in the past fairly heavily by sharing my political views, and I will definitely do more of this in the future. In fact, there are political elements in 13 Arcane Hymns that I'm very happy with. It's part of the whole. For The Unravelling's beginning, though, I knew I had to do something different if I wanted to give this project more potential for people to relate to it in a deep way. So I decided to not censor myself even in a personal sense and go into a vulnerable place with the lyrics. The expression is intensely personal and the "psycho-analytical" aspect of the album represents our journey of growth, musically and lyrically.
Gus: Hey, you know my stance on the record. I started off simply wanting to create enticing canvasses for a vocalist to sing on. I wanted to pay homage to all the great bands and artists that inspired me throughout the years and brought me solace in times of turmoil or fun while drinking with friends. I guess I should name a few: Tool’s Aenima, Nirvana’s In Utero, Filter’s Short Bus, Dead Can Dance’s Spiritchaser, Opeth’s Morningrise; this list could go on for a while... but yea, I had no premeditated intentions of making something 'psycho-analytical' at all, it just seemed to happen naturally after assembling the various body parts and breathing life into the beast.
What kind of opportunities do you hope this release will bring for the band? Steve: I hope to be doing this for a living, period. We're willing to do the work and this is our spirituality, it's where our best foot comes forward to the world and it's what we get fulfillment from. I can see a lot of different things happening but I'd rather focus on the present moment and not over think. It's easy for me to do that. Basically, I want to be proud of this album. Then I can die a happy man.
Gus: I'm looking forward to the opportunity of making art and music a full-time job. Waking up and jamming, recording, touring, drinking foreign liquors and feasting with fellow comrades. I'd really like to travel the world and see different things just like the guy from the Dos Equis ads to be quite honest. That motherfucker is the man.
Do the two of you tend to write your material together, or do you each do your part separately? Gus: Most of the song-writing was already completed when I met Steve and I know he had a lot of lyrics locked away in that secret leather book of his before meeting me so it was more of a collaboration after the fact. I remember setting up drum loops that I thought sounded decent in Pro Tools and pressing play. Then hashing out the guitar riffs over the loops to form the foundations for the songs and following it up with bass and synths. After that it was a matter of finding someone whose vision worked well with mine.
Steve: We tend to write separately, but we also tend to share wavelengths fairly well. I can see things fusing themselves together in the future. We're both used to compromise now and we've seen that it delivers great results when you trust the other person. That's why there's a wide range of styles on the album, and we'll continue that. I'm always writing lyrics, and if I don't have any, I can listen to Gus's music and write something on the spot. It's all inspiration, trial and error.
Your music definitely has a lot of range and diversity, whether it be from song to song or even from one minute to the next in the same song. How important is it to you to have that element in your music? Gus: Diversity for me is one of the greatest strengths in music, especially in this day and age of short attention spans. Plus it's hard to feel moved and involved with a song if its mood remains the same. I definitely tried to add twists in the road and hills and valleys for sure. The main goal was to make the path as interesting as possible so that you couldn't wait to see what was lurking around the corner or waiting for you at the end of the journey. And I really think the ability to vocalize this was one of the main reasons Steve's style worked so well on the songs. He helped release a lot of the images that only existed in our heads until this point.
Steve: It's mainly an important thing to me as a music listener and an admittedly A.D.D. personality! I love so many different artists - everyone from Leonard Cohen, Dead Can Dance, Radiohead, Sinead O’Connor, Tom Waits and Portishead to Tool, Dillinger Escape Plan, Sepultura, Skinny Puppy, Public Enemy and Refused. I wouldn't want to make a record like, say, Killswitch Engage, where you know exactly what to expect when it comes out. More riffage and crooning, screaming verses and singing choruses, etc. That's not to say I dislike the band. I actually enjoy a lot of bands who have the same sound throughout their albums. It's just that my very favourite artists tend to have some surprises along the way. We are typically heavy in mood, and that lends itself to a lot of different sounds. I think Lisa Gerrard's track "Maranatha" is heavier than most death metal tracks could ever be, because it reaches deeper, it's stronger, it has more authority in my opinion. We're trying to follow that inspiration.
You’ve been working really hard and the press seems to be rolling in. Has anything surprised you about the reviews you’ve been getting? Steve: I've been pleasantly surprised by the intense reaction to the album previews, especially since the final product isn't even finished yet. I think the music is really coming across strongly to people so far in ways I would never have predicted. It's just got me more excited about the potential.
Gus: Thanks for the props - I never knew how much work it would take to make an album until now. It's a job, not a hobby and we haven't even gotten to the point of the live performances yet. That's going to be another universe of challenges and rewards. What surprises me about the press so far is how passionate people still are about music. Taking time out of their days to find new talent, and give them the time of day to talk about their creations is an art in itself. It's like treasure hunting I'm guessing; searching for that last white whale with harpoon in hand. [laughs] Maybe not, but that's how I see it at least. It's great.
And as for your live lineup, how is it finding other musicians that you feel will be able play your music live the way you want it to be? Gus: Musical skill is good and all but if you're an asshole you'll burn bridges and make enemies along the way. So aside from playing and performing I guarantee you the musicians that step forward to fill in for our live shows will definitely have to be cool, down to earth people as well. I think Steve has found a few interested parties already and I know of a few myself so the seeds have been sown.
Steve: Yeah, we're looking for down-to-earth people who are deeply into things. Performance is a key element as well. You have to know how to play but also how to "not play" - to lose yourself and make some pure, beautiful noise!
Are there any new upcoming plans for The Unravelling? Gus: Yes, a lot of clandestine meetings with shadowy, unsavoury characters. Thanks for your having us by the way, we never forget those that help us along the way.
Steve: I'm planning to send you this interview and enjoy the satisfaction of being featured in PureGrainAudio. I know it sounds a bit Eckhart Tolle-esque, but I'm trying hard not to get ahead of myself. Thank you!