Sunday 13 November 2016

"the most interesting and original music is written by those with the most open mind": Amped & Doomed with Kyle Alexander McDonald (Zaum)

 By: Aaron Pickford & Kyle Alexander McDonald 

Based in New Brunswick, Canada – ZAUM is a dark passage into the unspoken realization of the old world; a monolithic doomy mantra-based meditative experience forged by bass and drums interwoven with sitar, woodwind, string and synth textures resulting in a tranquil resonance whereby the astral and physical planes can co-exist and be understood from a natural perspective.

Their debut album "Oracles", released in June 2014, garnered widespread critical acclaim, primarily throughout Europe, and was eventually nominated for an ECMA Award for Best Loud Recording. In their one and a half years as an active touring band, ZAUM have amassed more than a hundred live shows (mainly international) including support stints for Voivod, Pentagram, and Cauldron.

Chapter II in the existence of ZAUM - ”Eidolon”, is an illuminated revelation of the ancient past with furthered lush and organic soundscapes as its vibrant artwork depicts. While concurrent with respect to the time period, “Eidolon” summons the mind into a lost world afar from the Middle Eastern deserts of debut album ”Oracles
. (Sureshotworx)

What makes Zaum’s music so intoxicating is the sheer density of their sound. Layers of synths, sitars, flutes and who knows what else, build up to create a foundation of all-encompassing drone for the bands epic compositions.  Prepare to be transported to a higher realm as we get Amped & Doomed with ZAUM kinpin Kyle Alexander McDonald 

SL: Can you give us an insight into how you started playing music, leading up to the formation of ZAUM

I’m actually a drummer first!  Started drumming at the age of 11 in a concert band, and shortly afterwards a jazz band.  Played in my first official original band in 1994 – and went on to play in a dozen of different bands throughout the years (including a band called MEN formed with Eric’s Trip / Elevator to Hell drummer Mark Gaudet) - leading up to the point of Shevil (named after a Melvins song) – which was a stoner-doom band I fronted which formed in 2011 with my best bud Shaun Crawford.  The band consisted of 3 bassists and 1 drummer.  We recorded an EP and then a full length which was released posthumously.  In a certain way of it, the Shevil record “Kilts of War” is kind of a prequel to ZAUM -  The album took place in Scotland in and around 600 A.D. (same time frame as in “Oracles”).  2/3 bassists moved across the country at which point I considered the possibility of doing another Shevil album as a 2-piece but that instead I would play through 2 bass heads/cabs.  The more I thought about it, I wanted to tour more and knew Shevil drummer Errol Girvan couldn’t commit to the touring level I was looking for out of a band – so I decided to move on from that idea and instead leave Shevil be and form a new band. 

I’m both a live and studio sound engineer day/night job wise when I’m not playing music, and at that time I was working with an old friend of mine Chris Lewis who was bartending the venue I was booking and doing sound at.  He had drummed and sang in bands for years (since maybe 1990?) and I got to picking his brain with respect to his potential interest in touring more wide scale etc.  One thing lead to another and I asked him if he would be into drumming in a new 2-pc band just he and I.  Some parts of songs on “Oracles” – I had actually written on an acoustic guitar as early as 2007.  We started jamming and things were really crushing and fun and we made a conscious effort to be as self-indulgent as possible without any concern toward anything or anyone but our own interest.  We actually didn’t have a name for the band until almost all of “Oracles” was in an early form.  ZAUM had been a pseudonym I’d used since 1992 and later as an “artist name” for personal demos of mine I wouldn’t ever show to anyone.  I mentioned the name to Chris to see what he thought and he was instantly intrigued, so ZAUM it was.

SL: Can you remember who or what inspired you to pick up the guitar, bass? Are there any bands, guitarists, bassists currently on the scene that continue to inspire you and push you to try new things?

Quorthon of Bathory was probably the one guy I can pinpoint who made me realize to just go for it.  He struck me as a guy who wasn’t a professional player or singer but encompassed a vibe and just made it happen. 

SL: Who or what do you take inspiration from, do you have any heroes in music and do you have 5 records that stand out as favourites, what influence did they have upon you and what is it about those record that particular resonates amongst others?

My heroes in music are Buzz Osborne (Melvins), Brian Williams (Lustmord), Alex Lifeson (Rush), Peter Gabriel (Solo career, not Genesis), and Quorthon (Bathory).

5 favorite record of all time is Peter Gabriel – “Passion”.  Beyond that, I’d say Lustmord – “The Word As Power”, Bathory – “Blood On Ice”, Earth – “2” : Special Low Frequency Version and King Crimson – “Red”. 

SL: Can remember your first electric guitar, bass?  

Well as aforementioned I was a drummer first.  That said, the first guitar I had my hands on was my mothers.  She bought one when I was quite young and she practiced for a short while but gave up quickly (it seemed).  It was a really nice classical guitar I actually held onto my entire life – and even “Omen” was written on it back in the mid to late 2000’s (I subsequently lost it in a sewage flood).  Bass wise, my younger brother’s girlfriend had this shiddy red Warwick bass that was always kicking around that I tinkered with for years. 

SL: What guitar(s) bass (s) are you using today and how did you gravitate towards the guitar you currently use? 

I prefer playing a shortscale basses in general.  I’m currently using a black 1978 Fender Musicmaster I found in this deadly vintage shop while on vacation in the USA (in New Hampshire, which is a tax free state!).  I felt “Eidolon” was going to have a little more clarity overall and as such I felt it best suited to use this bass rather than the SG I used on “Oracles”.

SL: What do you like about the guitar/basses you currently use and has there been any specific modifications to it? 

On “Oracles” I used an 2007 Gibson SG Bass with stock pickup, but modded it by adding a Fender Jazz pickup next to the bridge (almost touching) – bass output was modded from mono to stereo - so each pickup had its own output.  The Musicmaster I’m currently playing has a stock single coil pickup in which it dishes out so much brightness and presence (especially for a shortscale). 

SL: ZAUM create a unique an enveloping sound which is all the more amazing given that there are only two members.  What amps and pedals do you currently use that enables you to create your unique sound?  Do you use a combination of amps, or a full half stack? Talk us through your set up in the studio and do you find it is easy to replicate your recorded output  into the live environment? 

I split my bass output signal and run TWO pedal chains. 

The “mandatory/mainstay” components in chain one is : EHX POG2
à EHX Holy Stain (Hall Reverb Function) à MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay .  The tones dialled in on both are ultra-specific and make or break the sound of said chain.  This chain runs into a 1970 Traynor Monoblock II à Ampeg 8x10 Bass Cab.

The “mandatory/mainstay” components in chain two is : HBE UFO Octave Fuzz
à MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay.  This chain runs into a 1970 Traynor Monoblock II à Emperor 4x12 Guitar Cab

SL: What one pedal could not live without and why? 

HBE UFO Octave Fuzz
.  It’s so hard to go back to a regular fuzz once you play the most badass gross sounding OF ever.

SL; Do you have any advice for up and coming guitars players, bands?

Take any preconceived notions and toss em out the door.   Just go for it, experiment.  All that matters is you like what you’re doing.  Also I think the best thing you can do is open your mind with respect to music.  Get out of being stuck in a certain genre.  I think the most interesting and original music is written by those with the most open mind.
SL: Do feel there are deeply help misconceptions about being in a band? 

In general terms (overall) – I’m sure there are many but none pressing to the forefront in my mind. 

SL: Moving on a little then, what can you tell us about your forthcoming record “Eidolon”.  What are some of the overarching themes running through the record and/or what springs to mind when you think about the completion of your new record?

Our 2nd full length album is titled “Eidolon”, which consists of 2 songs and runs 40 minutes in length.  The album is released by Swedish label I HATE on October 24, 2016 on LP and CD, and via Canadian label Superbob Records on Cassette Tape only.  The album takes place around/during the same time frame - but far away geographically from the Middle Eastern desert sands in “Oracles”.  The album is a little cleaner and polished sounding, yet slightly more organic and linear.  We’re incredibly proud of it and hope people can draw something from it!

SL: What stands out as your overarching memory from the recording sessions? 

Probably recording the bed tracks on Oct 29, 2015 at Pumpk’n Patch Studios out in the countryside in Atlantic Canada in the wee hours of the morning.  We actually also recorded the bed tracks for our next album as well, but in a bizarre turn of events, the tapes were lost – and as such we will have to re-record them when the time comes.  Strangely enough, “Eidolon” will be released just a few days short of exactly one year later.

SL: What is in the pipeline in terms of future recordings and how is your schedule shaping up over the next 12 months?

We have a full 5 week European tour spanning 12 countries (listed below).  This spring we will do an extensive UK tour with British friends of ours Telepathy – and next fall another full EU tour with Swedish friends of ours Firebreather.  We will likely re-record our bed tracks for our next album over the winter before our spring UK tour, artwork is already being worked on now :)

SL: Since the inception of Zaum , what stands out as some of your fondest memories?

Touring with some of the best people (who ended up being some of my best friends) I’ve ever met in my life.  The quality of the bands we have toured with and shared bills with over there is totally unbelievable.  Supporting Voivod last summer here in our hometown was a personal favourite show of mine.

Finally, do you have any final comments/word of wisdom you’d like to bestow upon us?

We encourage everyone to share our music with your friends and family – spread the thought of ZAUM!   If you’d like to see us in your city or country, please contact your local promoters and/or refer them to us (message us on our facebook page anytime).  We bow to the almighty Sludgelord!  Thank you, and see you all soon.  
Live Rituals

14.11 Marburg, DE @ Trauma
15.11 Saarbrücken, DE @ Kleiner Klub
17.11 Würzburg, AU @ Immerhin
18.11 Olten, CH @ Coq D'or
19.11 Martigny, CH @ Sunset
20.11 Salzburg, AU @ Rockhouse
21.11 Bratislava, SK @ Fuga
22.11 Budapest, HU @ Dürer Kert
24.11 Szeged, HU @ Grand Cafe
25.11 Timisoara, RO @ Daos
26.11 Vienna, AU @ Kramladen

Band info: facebook