Sunday 15 March 2015

Interview with Ashes And Iron

Post-Metal collective – Ashes And Iron – have been gone a long time. They released their debut release back in 2008 which I'm a huge fan of. Now 6 years later this hugely talented band are back with their new album – The Wind Takes A Side.

I said this about their new album:

The Wind Takes A Side is a stunning album that will appeal to all fans of Instrumental Rock/Metal. It’s a shame the album didn’t have one more epic song to close with as 31 minutes isn’t enough for a band like Ashes And Iron. I hope it is not another 6 years for their next release. My advice is to buy this album now, as it is a must-have record.”

The guys have kindly agreed to an interview with ourselves at Sludgelord HQ.

Q1 – Hi guys. How are things with you all today?

Ian: Super awesome. We love the wintertime.

Q2 – Can you give a brief history to our readers of how the band came about and where it is today?

Chris: We formed A&I in 2006. We released "Silens" in 2008. Since then, we've had a few lineup changes, but Thad and I have stuck it out the entire time. Shortly after the Silens release, our original 2nd guitarist (David Miller) left the band to move to NYC. He was replaced by Ian Mahan. Our vocalist/keyboard player (Kenny Snarzyk) left the band and later formed Fister. This was a big turning point for the band because vocals and keys were very present in our music. Not too long after Kenny's departure, our bassist (Dave Lawrence) decided that he wasn't interested in playing music anymore and he left as well. He was replaced by Dave Goodman. Once we were a solid unit again, we had to adapt to the changes of bringing new members into the fold... Different influences, different writing styles, etc. It was difficult, but then something clicked and we started writing what would be the new album. It was during this time that we decide to remain instrumental.

Q3 – Why did you choose the name Ashes and Iron? Any specific meaning to the band?

Chris: It was the original title to the song “Silens” from our first release. Our vocalist (Kenny Snarzyk) at the time came up with the name. I don't remember the story behind it though.

Q4 – How would you describe your own sound, as I feel it's best coming from the band themselves?

Ian: We’re loud. We’re melodic. We’re instrumental. We’re heavy. We’re air movers.

Q5 – We have to talk about your new album – The Wind Takes A Side - So are you excited, nervous or thrilled what people are going to make of it.

Thad: It is definitely a mix of all three. I’m sure other artists, musicians, or anyone that does anything creative can relate to this. The amount of time from inception to final product takes so long that all of those emotions factor in at one point during the process. When we were in the studio working on mixing the album, I was most excited for others to hear what we were hearing, coming through the monitors. I still wish people could hear the album there. That’s where it sounds best; although we are more than happy with how it sounds everywhere else too. Then, once everything was finished and the label started to trickle out promo material, I was nervous to see what people had to say…nervous that people may say nothing at all; that it may go unnoticed. However, to my surprise, people did notice it. They have been posting reviews and commenting on the album and I am thrilled with the reception The Wind Takes A Side has received both locally and in cyberspace. I’m particularly excited to get on the road and play shows out of town to promote the record.

Q6 – Was it a hard or easy album to write and record for. As you have a lot of different sounds going on with the album.

Ian: Writing the album took a lot of time and energy. We were always chasing the proverbial dragon. The title track of the album is nearly 5 years old. However, we were still writing additional parts in the studio. Arguably, our songs are always evolving and open to new interpretations and additions. Recording the album was also energy consuming. Thad did all of the heavy lifting in the studio. And, let the record show, Thad is a top notch drummer/engineer/mixer/architect/dude.

Q7 – What influenced you when writing and recording the album.

Ian: The short answer: we want to write music/songs that move or make the listener feel like they've been somewhere. The long answer: we are a pretty diverse group of dudes. Of course, we all come from the rock and roll/heavy music background. Our common rock background is where we usually begin when we set out to write new material. However, after initial ideas have been shared for a particular tune the song can literally go anywhere. And, we have years (literally) of riffs waiting to find a spot in one of our songs. As noted earlier, our songs will never be totally complete. So, in reality, the fact that our songs can go anywhere and be anything is what influences us. We never want to be accused of 'mailing it in' ya know?

Q8 – Why did you choose the name The Wind Takes A Side for the title of your album. Does it have any specific meaning to you as a band.

Ian: I read 'Blood Meridian' by Cormac McCarthy a couple times while we were writing for the record. The book revolves around some pretty heavy themes (war, existence, time, etc.). The wind takes a side is actually in the book at a turning point in the plot.

Q9 – Now I have to ask this question. Where have you guys been for 6 years? As you released “Silens” originally back in 2008. Hell of a long wait.

Chris: We had a few lineup changes. Some of us got married. Some of us have kids now. Thad went back to school… Life just sort of got in the way, but we’re back now!

Q10 – Were you apprehensive recording a new album since it has been a long time since you released Silens?

Thad: Our process tends to run long. Chris and I have been playing music together for over 10 years and we’ve never been able to just crank out songs. Honestly, writing music that we’re proud of is a struggle. It’s all too easy to write riffs that we feel are just OK; riffs that may not be bad by most people’s standards, but they don’t “move” us emotionally or they feel cheesy after listening to them a few times. Years ago we came to terms with the fact that we just will never be those guys that can crank out an album each year or even every 2 years. So there was no apprehension in that capacity. However, we do record and mix our own music and I hadn’t recorded a band since I did Fister’s Bronsonic record back in 2010. So I was definitely nervous about getting back in the studio and getting things to sound the way we wanted them to. I am always nervous about that because the recording plays such a critical role to the ears and minds of the listeners.

Q11 – Silens has slowly started receiving some awesome reviews over the years. Has that surprised you on how well it has been received by fans and critics in general?

Thad: Positive reviews are always surprising. Maybe I’m just a pessimist, but I assume that no one will like our music until I hear otherwise. Our approach to music is so personal, we’re trying to satisfy our own desires, that I fear listeners may have different expectations. That’s certainly a fear of the unknown. But I absolutely love it when others connect with our art. We make music to move people and when it does we have succeeded.

Q12 – Looking back on Silens, would you change anything about it?

Thad: My personal philosophy is one of no regrets. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the specific decisions we made in the past. That doesn’t mean Silens is a perfect record but considering all factors, I am incredibly satisfied with both the recording quality and the songwriting. But, if I force myself to give you an answer, if I could go back and do anything again, it would be to pay someone to do album art for it. We never really put any energy into conceptualizing album art. I’m sure we didn’t do that at the time because, more likely than not, we were broke after recording, mixing, and mastering. But that’s the one element, for me, that was lacking the same attention to detail we put into everything else.

Silens cover art

Q13 – Which bands and artists influenced you all as musicians? Any particular album that stands out that made you decide to become a musician?

Thad: My father was a guitar player. He was a blues musician in St. Louis in the 60s and early 70s but sold all of his gear, except for one acoustic guitar, to have money to support his family. I am one of five and my three older siblings were all way into music, but only as listeners, never performers. The love that the 4 of them have for music is why I’m a musician today. I started playing trumpet at 9 years old and played competitively until I was 18. However, when I was 14 I started teaching myself drums. I started my first band at 16. Since music was all around me my whole life, I can’t pinpoint any one artist or album that was critical in my decision to pursue music. However, the bands or genres that I consider pivotal in my development as a musician are: Classical Composers and artists of all sorts (Ravel, Yo Yo Ma, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Philip Glass, etc.), Creedence Clearwater Revival, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, Jon Theodore, and Ben Koller (to name a few of the many).

Chris: When I was around 2 years old, my sister’s boyfriend turned me on to KISS. That’s what made me fall in love with the guitar. Other big influences for me would be Dinosaur Jr, The Smiths, The Cure, The Police, Black Sabbath, too many punk, thash, hardcore and metal bands to name, Glenn Miller and other Big Band greats… Bands like Neurosis and Today is the Day also had a big impact on me.

Dave: The reason I started playing guitar/bass was George Lynch from Dokken… Mr. Scary on the Back for the Attack album blew my 12 year old mind and I just realized right there that I had to play guitar! Other artists that affected my guitar brain soon after... Metallica, Van Halen, Guns & Roses, Carcass, Napalm Death, Bill Frissell, Fred Frith, Steve Morse, John McLaughlin, George VanEpps, Dave Pajo/Slint, Duane Denison/Jesus lizard, King Buzzo/Melvins, Brian Patton/Soilent Green, Scott Hobart/Giants Chair, Dimebag, Henry Kaiser, etc.

Ian: We have such a diverse background of's hard to pin down. Any particular band? I can speak for myself and say that hearing my parents play records (david bowie, the police, etc.) at the house constantly made me first, a music fan, and secondly, a dude who wants to get in front of people and play music.

Q14 – Congrats on getting your album released on Vinyl. You released the album via two record labels – Good Die Young Music and Encapsulated Records. How did you hook up with those two labels?

Chris: Both labels are based in our hometown. We played a record release show with with a couple bands on their roster (Indian Blanket and The Lion’s Daughter) and they approached us. We’ve known Mike from Encapsulated for years, so it just made sense.

Q15 – How important is a physical product to your band being either CD or Vinyl? As some bands are relying on Digital Downloads for their first release(s).

Dave: I like the fact that Vinyl is making a comeback. I have personally been playing music/guitar/bass for over 25 years, and recorded quite a bit amongst all the bands I’ve ever been in, but never released anything on vinyl. When the Ashes and Iron album was released, I was actually able to hold my own record and it was a very gratifying experience. I held it like it was a trophy!

Q16 – What is your musical setup when playing live or recording new material? Do you have an advanced setup or basic setup?

Dave: It's a pretty simple set up for both jamming, playing live and recording for the most part. I guess in the studio you can take more chances with tone and pursue other options for over all sounds, but this band is very consistent when we jam out at practice, record or play live.

Q17 – What is the song-writing dynamic in the band? Is it down to one individual or a group collective?

Chris: It usually starts with a riff that Ian or I have written and then we collectively try to construct a song from there. It’s definitely a team effort and doesn’t leave our practice space until it gets our “seal of approval”.

Q18 – Apart from the new album release, what other plans do you have over the next 12 months or so? Anything exciting you would like to share with us.

Chris: We just played a few dates with The Life and Times. We’re all fans of that band, so it was really cool sharing the stage with them.

Dave: We hope to do some long weekends throughout the Midwest this year. We have other friends releasing albums in the next few months, so the Midwest will be a good start to piggy back with some cool bands! Crossing our fingers for an offer to go to Europe!!

Q19 – Do you find it hard being in a band in today's current climate? If you could change anything about the Doom/Sludge Metal scene what would it be and why?

Thad: I don’t know if there’s anything unique to the Doom/Sludge Metal scene that doesn’t seem to cut across all genres and be endemic of music in the 21st century. I feel like we’re in a malaise of sorts. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe I’m not looking hard enough or in the right places or maybe my expectations are too high…but I think it shouldn’t have to take real effort to hear or find great music. I feel that in bygone eras great music was all around, people were inspired, innovating, and generally being creative. It has been a really really long time since I heard something new and had my mind blown. So, from that standpoint, it can be difficult, lacking a climate of creativity and new ideas. But maybe all of this is just a reflection of me and not a commentary on the state of music today. That’s what I’d change though…for there to be a general atmosphere of creativity and innovation. People trying to push boundaries and not being afraid to make something that other people hate, all for the sake of making something they love.

Q20 – Do you guys get to gig regularly in your home-town or do you have to travel further afield?

Chris: We generally play St. Louis once every few months. We are just getting back into playing other cities. It had been years since our last out of state excursion, but the dates we recently played with The Life and Times just primed our motor. We are looking forward to doing that more frequently.

Q21 – Before you go do you have anything to say to your fans?

Thanks for all the support over the years!! Please pick up a copy of the new record so they don’t become obnoxious coasters!

Check out their excellent debut record – Silens – from 2008. It ‘s available for free download.

Thanks to Ashes And Iron for the promo. The Wind Takes A Side is available to buy on DD/Vinyl from Good Die Young Music/Encapsulated Records

Words by Steve Howe

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