Saturday 9 March 2013

Interview with Keith D of Arctic Sleep

Arbors cover art

Today it's my pleasure to be interviewing Keith D, vocalist and guitarist of Progressive Doom/Post-Metallers – ARCTIC SLEEP – who recently blew me away with their outstanding new album – Arbors. Now this is their fourth album overall but the first time I have heard of these guys and the first album I have checked out. But that will be changing real soon as Arbors made me a fan of this great band.

They have made an impression in the Stoner/Sludge Scene and are very highly thought of. So I was pleased as punch when they agreed to do an interview with me.

Q1 – Hi, Thanks for doing this. How are things with you today.

Just fine, I guess. Everyone in the band has been very busy lately. I'm answering these questions today from my hotel room in northern Indiana, where I am currently traveling through. This area is depressing and you aren't missing anything. I'm just south of Gary. Great place to get stabbed.

Q2 – For people not in the know, can you give them a brief history of the band and how it came about. As you have had quite a journey from when you started up to the present day.

Well, Mike and I are best buds and we have been hanging out and playing together for many years, so the band started with the two of us. From there it has mutated in various forms.

Q3 – How would you describe your sound. As I would necessary call it as Progressive Atmospheric Doom.

When people ask me what type of music we play, I never know how to answer because we're not really pandering to any specific genre. We don't care about fitting in some cookie-cutter mold. Or a moldy cookie-cutter. When we started out, we knew we both wanted to make music that was not only intense and heavy, but also deep and beautiful at the same time. I was very adamant about tuning the guitars down to drop-B and keeping tempos at a crawl. 

 This was done not only out of taste, but also necessity, because I was dealing with very bad chronic tendonitis and could no longer play fast music due to tightness and pain in the wrists and forearms. I wanted the imagery and atmosphere of the band to reflect both the beauty and darkness of nature, and be very dynamic; sometimes very loud yet sometimes very quiet, sometimes soul-crushingly sad and other times uplifting. But I honestly think your descriptor of "Progressive Atmospheric Doom" is pretty fitting!

Q4 – Which bands and artists influence you directly as musicians?

I am into stuff from all over the musical spectrum, from classical to metal to world/folk music and even lots of pop stuff too, old video game music, and I've always loved movie scores too (John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Horner, etc) and I like a lot of "dad rock" a.k.a. classic rock, and 80's stuff as well. Mike unabashedly loves Nirvana and he's super-big into all the 90's bands like Soundgarden. When I first met Mike though, we really hit it off because we were both big Melvins fans, the two of us really found common ground with our love for that band. We're also huge fans of old Sepultura and Alice In Chains, the both of us also really like Pink Floyd and The Beatles too. Influences are all over the place.

Q5 – Are you all full time musicians or do you have regular jobs to pay the bills?

We'd love to be doing this full-time of course, but being an unsigned DIY band, we all have regular jobs to pay the bills right now. Working a job sucks but that's what you have to do to be able to afford gear, studio time, etc. We all work very, very hard to support our true purpose. After all, for most of us, that's all a job is for. Deep down we don't give a shit, it's just there to support what we really want to do. I guess that's why I really admire people whose work, purpose, and passion are all one in the same. Isn't that what we all want in life? A lot of the time I feel like I work two jobs. 

 I work for the man all day and then come home and take care of business for Arctic Sleep, everything from promotion to design to website maintenance and the list goes on and on. I actually put a lot of time and effort into the whole thing. So I alternate between "real job" and "dream job" 24 hours a day. I will quit my real job if the opportunity provides itself though. Wouldn't we all just love to get paid for being ourselves? That would rule. I can't really be myself at my "real" job. I'm sure plenty of people can relate to that. It's like living a secret life. My employer doesn't even know I'm in a band. They wouldn't understand. I call in sick for shows. You do what you have to do.

Q6 – Are your family and friends supportive of your music.

Some are supportive, but to be honest I think most of them don't give a shit!

Q7 – What is the song-writing process in the band. Is it a group collective or is just down to one individual.

The songwriting is always a collaboration between me and Mike, to one degree or another. The only exceptions would be a few tracks that I already had done as totally completed works like "Splitsville," "One Day We Will All Be Dust," "Wolf Nature," and all the stuff on Abysmal Lullabies. Sometimes Mike will have a bunch of cool riffs and I'll just arrange them and add drum beats, a vocal melody, and other elements. Like on "Mossweaver," "Black Moth," and "Pine Mountain" for example, those are all classic Mike guitar riffs... I just gave them beats, vocal melody, format and some extra instrumentation. Mike is an endless source of guitar riffs. I suffer from riff-writer's block at times but I don't think he ever does. Other times we will both have our own separate ideas and say "hey, those would go great together!"

 Good example would be on "Destroying Angel," the verses and bridge are all Mike riffs, the chorus riffs were a totally separate idea of mine, and we said "hey, those would sound great back-to-back!" We pasted them together like a grilled cheese sandwich. Our ideas inspire each other and bounce back and forth to make the finished work. Mike and I work well together, he's endlessly creative, comes up with tons of fantastic ideas, and we both make up for each other's shortcomings like yin/yang. I'm a drummer as well in addition to playing other instruments so I will make up drum parts for the songs, then we cut basement demos over a few beers on a home recorder and hand them out to the rest of the band. Nick is a total machine, one of the best drummers I've ever worked with, he stays very true to my original ideas for the drum parts but then he will take them way beyond anything I'm capable of, and will occasionally add in these very creative fills and accents and stuff, as far as technical ability goes I think he's the most talented player in the band. 

Q8 – Your new album – Arbors – was recently released. And what an outstanding album it is. Very heavy and beautifully poetic at the same time. It has received some great reviews from what I have read so far. Bet you're pleased with the responses so far.

Thank you so much! Believe me when I say that we've been deeply moved by the responses we've received from both reviewers and fans. To hear that someone finds meaning in our music and that it brings them comfort or happiness is the most gratifying thing that I could ever ask for as a musician. There are a lot of artists & bands whose music made life more enjoyable for me... hell, I would say some of it saved my life. For me anyway, that's what I want to do with my music... I want it to be something that will bring people comfort, joy, and serenity, I want it to be a magical place that they can escape to.

Q9 – Was it an easy album to record for? You have included a whole range of genres. Was it easy or hard to put them all together as you guys throw a whole range of genres together. Must of been hard to keep track of them all.

Nah, nobody is keeping track of genres here, we could care less about that. When we write, we don't care so much about genres, but more about moods. An album should have a variety of emotions in it just like a good movie would. Making the album was hard work but it was fun and gratifying, because I absolutely love working in the studio, that's where I really have fun adding all kinds of overdubs, additional instrumentation, effects, etc, I love love love doing that stuff and finally getting the songs the way they were truly meant to sound. I wish I could do it every day. I used all two weeks of my vacation time from my day-job to stay in the studio and be immersed in the production. Not everyone in the band was able to be there the whole time though. Once again we are not concerned with genres at all but ratherdynamics. We want our albums to cover a variety of moods and emotions, and take the listener on that ride.

Q10 – Are you happy with the final result or would you change certain aspects of it?

I'm happy with every Arctic Sleep album, I like them all! With all our albums though, I always wish there was more time and budget. If I had my way, I'd spend months adding a symphony orchestra, more vocal parts, more percussion, all sorts of crazy shit like that. But, we can only afford so much studio time. I'm really happy with how it turned out though, and I'm really happy and proud of everyone involved and the good job they did. We aimed to put out an album of the highest quality we could possibly muster, not just so we could be proud of it but so that it would make the listener happy as well. Even with the help of the pre-sale, we made a lot of sacrifice to fund it. Nevertheless, each album was a worthwhile investment in my eyes and so long as it reaches people on an emotional level, that's all I care about.

Q11 – How has BandCamp been a big help in getting your music across.

Everyone seems to really like that website. It's a quick & easy way to check out bands and you can pick their stuff up at the touch of a button. It's a great resource for any band. I prefer physical CD's myself, but I've purchased quite a few downloads from other bands on there too. So yes it's been a big help, great site and a great way to get quick access to really great undiscovered music all around the world. I really hope more bands across the world will start using it too, there are a lot of awesome bands all over the planet that I have a hard time connecting to otherwise.

Q12 - Is there a scene for bands like yourself to perform in your home town on a regular basis. Or do you have to travel further afield to perform on a regular basis.

We are friends with bands in both Milwaukee and Chicago. In Chicago, I would recommend you check out the music of Guzzlemug and Arbogast. Further out I would encourage you to investigate Ozenza, Onn, Sundiver, and Anakin. These are all midwestern bands that deserve your attention.

Q13 – Being in a band like Arctic Sleep must be an expensive business. Most bands normally give up when the going gets tough. How do you guys keep going and motivated all the time.

I am a very tenacious person, and when I set my mind on something I get it done. I've kept this band going against all odds regardless of lineup, and will continue to do so until the day I die.

Q14 – What are your favourite bands around at the moment. Do you listen to modern day rock/metal or do you just listen to the classic era of Stoner/Sludge/Doom/Post-Rock/Post-Metal/Black-Metal.

I love something from all different genres, from past to present. As far as metal goes, I have really been loving this Russian folk-metal band called Arkona. I saw them live last year, what an incredible band... and their lead singer Masha is one of the best vocalists I've heard in a metal band, and has this amazing commanding stage presence. We are starting to see more women taking lead roles in metal bands and I think that is really awesome. 

 One of my all-time favorite bands is Anathema, and they just keep getting better as time goes on! As far as more rock bands go, I have really been enjoying these two space-rock bands Sundiver and Anakin. They both happen to be from Missouri and they've both got a really great knack for songwriting. They've been regulars on my playlist. I really love and appreciate bands that put quality songwriting first.

Q15 – What are your views of blogs featuring and reviewing your records, as opposed to mainstream music magazines?

We've never caught the attention of a mainstream music magazine, so I wouldn't know, haha! Both outlets have their place and their purpose though.

Q16 – How helpful have blogs been in getting your music across to the masses. Have they been a great help or a hinderance.

I really appreciate what the bloggists are doing. With some of the more quality-focused music blogs, you can tell the people behind them are truly passionate and genuinely care about getting good, undiscovered music & art some attention. It's very important that there is a voice for the underground, or at least from the underground.

Q17 – What are the most and least rewarding aspects of participating with the band.

To me, the most rewarding thing is how the music connects us to people all over the world. Our fanbase is really diverse, from all sorts of different countries, and to me that is the coolest thing of all! I've always thought that music, in its most universal of forms, has the power to connect us all together as one people all across the globe. To speak with someone in another country, who I've never met before, from a place I've never been... through the musical communication we've sent out like a beacon... is so amazing to me. I can't think of anything negative to say about it, though, sorry!

Q18 – Do you have any future plans for the upcoming 12 months or so. Anything we should be excited.

We are trying to get out and play as much as possible to support "Arbors." We're also trying to find a good label that will release our discography and hopefully put it out there on vinyl for all the vinyl enthusiasts out there. We have always been an unsigned band so sometimes it's tough to make something very ambitious like a full-discography vinyl release happen.

Q19 – If you could provide any advice to people wanting to start a band, what would it be.

Whatever you do, make it something original. There are millions of bands out there all trying to look and sound exactly like each other. Be different. Don't follow some tired old formula. I'm always very impressed when I see a local band doing something original and think to myself "wow, I've never heard anything like this before!"

Q20 - Finally, Do you have anything to say your fans?

I already said it a few times in the past, but again I want to say thank you to all of our awesome fans that pitched in on the pre-sale that made it possible to record "Arbors." We're not rock stars and we're not associated with any labels, it was those good folks from all around the world that made it possible. Their purchases of pre-sale packages not only took some of the financial weight off our backs and allowed us to afford a good amount of studio time, but the coolest thing was that it allowed us to connect with our listeners all over the world in a personal way. 

 We know just about all of them by first name, we've talked to some of them, and they were all in my thoughts the entire time I was in the studio. We consider them our friends. They know who they are. We would not have been able to make the album without their help. For many who helped, their names are mentioned in the credits inside the album. That there is a list of our biggest supporters, and we know them all on a first-name basis by now. We are all connected in music and spirit. And to anyone who enjoys our music and gets what we are about, we are right here with you. It's the beauty of music and nature that connects us all.

Well guys thanks for doing this. I am now a confirmed fan of your great band. Long it may continue. All the best from ourselves at Sludgelord.

Check This Great Band from Links below.