Monday, 3 March 2014

Interview with Philip from ALEPH NULL

Nocturnal cover art

Every now and again a band comes along and turns the whole Doom/Stoner Metal community upside down with their blazing riffs. And that's true for the next band I am honoured to be interviewing. As these guys have released one of the best Psychedelic Stoner/Doom Metal Records of 2014 with Nocturnal.

Nocturnal is starting win praise all over the place from blogs and even mainstream magazines such as Terrorizer. So this next band are definitely going places.

I called their début album:

Can I start an album review with that statement as it's true. Aleph Null have finally released their stunning début album – NOCTURNAL. After teasing the Doom/Stoner Metal world with two excellent E P’s back in 2012 - Dale and 2013 - Belladonna

These German Psych based Sludge/Doom/Stoner Metallers have themselves quite a considerable fanbase due to their style of hard-hitting Psych based riffs. Taking influence from Black Sabbath, Kyuss and Mastodon, It's time for Aleph Null to truly announce their arrival to the metal world. And they have with Nocturnal.”

Ladies and Gentlemen it's my pleasure to be interviewing Philip (Guitars/Vox) from German Sonic Riffsters – ALEPH NULL.

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

Hey Steve! Thanks for the opportunity to spread the word. We’re doing really great these days, a lot of exiting things are happening – like this feature on Sludgelord!

Q2 – So let's get down to business. Can you tell our readers a brief history on how the band started and where it is today.

It all started 2011 when Jens, our drummer, and I got to know each other and did a jam session. The result was the song “Dale”. I immediately had to think about Carsten, a long time musical comrade who played in several bands and projects with me before – I knew he would love that sound. I wasn’t mistaken, he was absolutely enthusiastic about it, grabbed the bass and Aleph Null was born. A year later we released our first sign of life. The resonance was overwhelmingly positive and we played some shows. Then another year later we released the four tracks of “Belladonna”. Right now we completed our third round with “Nocturnal”.

Q3 – How would you describe your sound. Psychedelic Doom/Stoner Metal is what I call it. Would you call it something else.

Yeah, the question of labelling. You know, we’re not against it – actually we feel quite comfortable with the categories, people put us in, and we can comprehend their notions in most cases. But the point is, we don’t have the interpretational sovereignty. What we hear or feel about these songs isn’t more authentic or real than any other association that comes to someone else’s mind. And we think that’s a good thing – that it gives this music somehow a life of its own.

For example, people called our first EPs “grungy” – that was quite a surprise for us, but yeah, we can understand what people have in mind when they call us that, and it’s definitely true. These days people call the new record “psychedelic” or “tripping”. Although I can image which elements substantiate that labelling, I personally always experienced this album more a solid rock in comparison of what we did before. But again, although I have this guitar in my hands, I’m not “in charge” of what people perceive.

Q4 – Before you released Nocturnal – you released two excellent EP's – Dale and Belladonna, which received many excellent reviews from the Doom/Stoner Metal community Were you surprised by the reaction that you received. As you guys seriously struck a chord with fans and reviewers alike.

Yes we were! None of us could have anticipated that response. But especially the profound way people discussed and still discuss what we do. This worldwide community consists without exception of very dedicated listeners who know exactly what they’re after. You know, the whole musical landscape has changed completely during the last ten years at least.

Releasing a record back then was a totally different thing. But I think it has changed for its benefit. Creative folks and consumers are much more at eye level – probably because in a lot of cases they’re one and the same. The communication is much more personal. We enjoy that a lot! Mere click numbers tell you nothing about whether anyone digs your enterprise. For me it’s the greatest thing on earth when someone tells us that he or she has been spinning our records for days – that this or that track really means something to them. I know for sure that for everyone who reads this on Sludgelord music is a part of life – we’re trying to contribute to that.

Q5 – Were those EP's easy or hard to write and record for. Would you change anything about them now looking back on them.

No, we wouldn’t change a thing! You know, we do everything by ourselves: writing, recording, artwork, video clips and so on. But we’re not that results-oriented, meaning apart from the ends we learn a lot about producing stuff, how to bring ideas to life. That in itself is a quality that we appreciate about the band. It’s the process that inspires us – a process which is irreversible. What we haven’t told you guys yet is that the tracks on “Dale” and “Belladonna” are actually in the same order in which we wrote them. In this respect these records are very organic and really document our quest, so to speak.

Q6 – Now lets talk about your new album – Nocturnal. WOW. What an album that is. Can you tell our readers what was the recording process like. Did you know you had something special on your hands.

Thanks a lot mate! We started writing these songs immediately after “Belladonna”. You know, we’re always working on new material – even now we have three new songs in the making. So it took us half a year or so to get the tracks together, then recorded them in September/October 2013. We invested in new instruments, gear, mics and tube preamps and turned our rehearsal room into a studio – cause it actually has a good resonance, especially for drums. After that we really lingered over the mixing and mastering process, made a lot of pre-production mixdowns to find the energetic sweet spot for this recordings.

And no, we didn’t feel like having something special on our hands because, as I said before, we don’t plan albums but follow a process. Every track that’s finished somehow demands the next. And there comes the point when you feel that this is a coherent unit.

Q7 – Was Nocturnal a hard or easy album to record for compared to your previous releases.

The more you work together the more confident you become. I mean between having an idea and making it become reality you really have to dig into the material you want to shape. But once you come to this point you really can express yourself which is the greatest feeling of all. The danger then is that you back down onto save ground – that your expression gets worn out. So we always try to explore new styles or technics. Simply because we’re fans of heavy music and hate to get bored! So all in all, what we tried with this album was to be most transparent and in your face. Except for the vocals there are hardly any additional effects in the mix.

Q8 – What is the meaning behind the album as I feel it's a conceptual album in some way. Or am I looking far too much into it.

Well, I’ve talked much about process, conception and the organic – so actually no, we hadn’t that in mind. If anything you could say that there is a consistent theme in the lyrics which would be nothing else than “the nocturnal”. In every song you can find metaphors about sleep, awakening, dawn and so on. You know, for me every verse, every line is a little canvas you paint. And I’m just letting the words flow until there is a picture that affects me. I’m into a very open style of lyrics – only when their meaning is unclear, they actually start to thrive in me.

So in general the lyrics deal with all the nocturnal things that are at work even if we are not aware of them. Beyond the glade in which you think you know who you are and where things seem definite, there is a whole dark realm of things that you can never control. To meditate you into some sort of somnambulistic state where everything is unclear is probably the lyrical intention of this record. Because only where you’re not afraid to let loose new things come by.

Q9 – It's winning praise everywhere even in Terrorizer. Congrats on that one. It seems this album is winning more praise than your last two releases. Has this surprised you. Did you expect this kind of response.

Interesting here is the people’s perception of this album as our “real” debut. We called Nocturnal an “album” simply because it’s over 40 minutes of playtime. But this is not a statement of quality. For us the first EPs are as "serious” and “real” as anything we do now or will do. But anyway, we are of cause thrilled and won’t disagree if someone likes to say that this record is well done…

And yes we are very happy with the growing attention, especially because the community is spreading the word just ‘cause they like what they hear – that has a great authentic vibe to it.

Q10 – Now a few fans of Sludgelord have asked me to ask this question. So here goes – HOW THE FUCK ARE YOU GIVING THIS ALBUM AWAY FOR FREE!!! - as we would of paid top-dollar to buy this album. It's seriously better than some of the albums currently being sold right now.

Haha!, I know this is a big issue for a lot of people and it would be the easiest thing to sell it to you as some kind of idealism. We’re not stoned communists or something but we decided to do so for other reasons. First and most obvious of all, we don’t believe that you can make a living with this music. All three of us, we have simple jobs, just enough to keep our mouths fed. But if you add this up at the end of the year it’s a shitload of money if you try to make that much in a subgenre band. But even if you don’t try to be a full time musician we simply don’t need it right now. Right now we have all the means to express what we want.

Q11 – Obviously you have given all your music away for free. Would you ever consider charging people to buy your music. As it's seriously of a high standard.

We’re not categorical here. If we ever come to the conclusion that we can’t go on if not buying a 10000 dollar console, than we would work precisely on that to happen – but I seriously doubt that. Again it’s the music that decides what it needs.

But as you insist on an idealistic discussion: isn’t it interesting that money is associated with high standard?

It sometimes seems to us that people demand to give us their money so that they can “rehabilitate” their idea of a worthy record. I don’t want to say that good gear isn’t expensive in most cases nor that a recording session in a high end studio wouldn’t ennoble your sound beyond compare, but the drive to perfection is at some point a really neurotic enterprise! We’re absolutely happy with the way we work and are absolutely convinced that we are most productive doing it like this.

Q12 – Which bands and artists influenced you as musicians. Any particular album that changed everything for you.

Well I can’t speak for my comrades here. For my part, everything changed when I was thirteen and bought my first Iron Maiden and Anthrax records in the early nineties while my uncle was feeding me with prog and kraut like Gentle Giant or Colloseum. Besides the obvious, later on it was among others Eyehategod and Acid Bath that really were an revelation and allured me from more metalish sounds back to the roots of heavy riffage and rather lysergic lyrics – Dax Riggs is one of my favourite singers anyway. Recently I’m into All Them Witches, Waning Moon, Correction House or monolithic sludge minimalists Sunwolf from Leeds. Just a collection of what I think Sludgelord readers are familiar with.

Q13 – You may know I am a huge fan of the German Sludge/Doom/Stoner Metal Scene. Loads of great bands such as WALL, The Moth, Mantar and yourselves are starting to make a name for yourselves. How is the scene in Germany. Do you guys perform a lot of gigs in your hometown or do you have to travel further afield.

We do know quite a number of these protagonists who bring forth this scene – great guys, dedicated and fun to be around. But if you wanna know what’s going on in the German scene you better ask them, because we don’t play that many shows and our first gigs weren’t even in Germany but in neighbouring countries such as Netherlands and Belgium. But we enjoy watching and participating in this new prospering collective. It's exciting to see how this creative area is getting its own profile and worldwide attention.

Q14 – What is your musical setup when playing live or recording your music. As you do have a very psychedelic sound. Any hints and tips would you like to give to the budding musicians out there.

Well, in my case it’s a Mockingbird into various pedals into a single channel Peavey tube head into a Marshall cabinet – nothing to brag about. Just recently I started soldering my own stompboxes and right now I'm experimenting with all kinds of fuzzes and overdrives.

The most valuable equipment is a good set of ears anyway!

Q15 – We are massive Vinyl Heads here at Sludgelord. Are you vinyl fans yourselves. Your album would sound amazing on Vinyl as it has that huge epic sound that only Vinyl can capture.

A lot of fans have been asking for vinyl and: actually we have good news! We got in contact (thanks to everyone who made this possible) with Daniel and his Los Angeles label EASYRIDER RECORDS. He’s an absolutely terrific guy, does excellent work that comes 100% from the heart. His whole catalogue is all killer no filler. Right now we are working out all the details but we can proudly and officially announce a vinyl release of Nocturnal! It’s gonna be a high quality package that leaves no vinyl enthusiast unsatisfied! The time of release will be roughly summer, so watch out!

Q16 – What is your verdict on the whole crowd-funding scene. Where bands ask fans to fund their next album. Are you a fan of that platform. Would Aleph Null ever go down that route.

The music industry is on its knees. Just because you know how to milk a cow doesn’t mean you know how to take care of it. I don’t want to generalize but a lot of these agents of the golden days were just frustrated musicians who became unskilled businessmen, which was even worse! And because of that they didn’t see it coming and now they try to close ranks but it’s too late. So nowadays artists are facing an unknown future and are in a state of transition. Crowd funding seems to be a way to take things in your own hand but it also means you have to do business. As far as I can see conditions and risks are manageable. Until now we’ve always decided to shoulder the risk by ourselves but we are watching these new possibilities with interest.

Q17 – If you could give any advice to someone wanting to start a band. What would it be.

I don’t know, maybe: start with our own ideas not with those of others. Keep asking yourself where the rules you think you have to follow come from!

Q18 – Well guys, thanks for talking to us here at Sludgelord HQ. We are massive fans of your band and music. All the best with the album. Do you have anything else to say to your fans.

Thanks for this opportunity! Steve, you’ve supported our enterprise since day one – we appreciate!

To everyone out there: thanks for your support! You are a part of Aleph Null. Keep telling us what you think, and if you like it, show it to your friends! We’ll continue being hard working bees of rock trying to provide you with the sweetest honey possible!


I want to thank Philip for talking to us here at Sludgelord HQ. If you haven't downloaded or listened to Nocturnal then you're seriously missing out on a brilliant album. Headover to Bandcamp and download this now. You won't be sorry.

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Written by Steve Howe