Falls of Rauros: The Toilet ov Hell Interview
Falls of Rauros have been like a slow-motion explosion in the world of underground metal. There’s no huge fireball that annihilates everything in its path in a matter of seconds, but a slowly expanding and utterly fascinating phenomenon that shifts and changes as you stand and stare, becoming completely engulfed before you know it. They have a fantastically diverse back catalogue that has developed considerably over the years, showing just what can happen when a band isn’t tethered by trends. Their most recent effort, Believe in No Coming Shore, perfectly satisfies the continuation of that growth we’ve come to expect of Falls of Rauros. Mixing their expansive brand of black metal with classic rock, folk, and atmosphere, this Portland, Maine quartet gives us a mountain to climb with this new album (spoiler alert: this will probably be one of my favorite mountains of 2014), but the arduous climb is worth every wandering step. Founding member Aaron Charles was kind enough to chat with me and Pagliacci is Kvlt
at a seedy dockside bar where we had to fight off several vagabonds for a table by the window, and we had to shout over gunfire for the duration of the entire interview via email about a few topics including the new album that’s out now on Bindrune records.
First of all, give us a little history of the band. Do you guys go back a ways before Falls of Rauros?
The project started back in 2005, but all of us have known each other for much longer than that. There’s not much to say about the history of the band that hasn’t been documented elsewhere. We’ve been recording music with a rotating line-up for years now but it’s finally settled down into a relatively consistent arrangement.
Your songs have this broad, sprawling magnificence about them. I’m sure it’s different for each case, but what is your general writing process like? Do you get thematic/lyrics inspiration before you begin a song, or does that come as the song grows?
Lyrics, song titles, album titles and whatnot have always come last for us. We figure it’s most important to work on the core material and let the music speak for itself and be strong enough in an instrumental form. We don’t want to rely on vocals as a crutch or as the hook of any song. So many people start bands every day because they came up with a “cool name” or witty song titles and the quality of music for them is just a secondary concern.
On the new album Believe in No Coming Shore, we see a progression that incorporates a wider range of outside influence than The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood, but with that same up-front sincerity. No song seems to worry about fitting into a mold, but everything still comes across as perfectly intentional. Tell us about those decisions and your mindset with the new album.
The stylistic changes on this record were largely circumstantial. We got together to start writing the album without a whole lot of material to work with up front. Each of us brought to the table an assortment of elements from music that was on our minds or was inspiring to us at the time. We tried things out, birthed ideas through improvisation and then refined those further until songs began to take shape. It was a drastically different songwriting process than we’ve used in the past and I think it’s how we’ll tackle the next record as well. It felt very natural.
Very cool, I’m always impressed by bands that can pull off that writing process this well. Tell us about the recording process for Believe in No Coming Shore. Was it different than previous studio time? What led to the choice in sounds and tones?
Recording this time around was very different from how we used to do it. All of the tones you hear came about very naturally and we didn’t want to overprocess or layer the album to death. For the vast majority of the record you’re hearing two half-stacks, a bass amp and drums with the four of us playing live in a room together. Obviously some layers were added after the fact as well as vocals, but the overall impression is that it’s largely playable by a quartet and can translate into a live performance with minimal omissions. We recorded down the street from where we live, at Acadia Recording Co. and utilized a few pieces of equipment there but mostly just used the gear we play shows with.
I’ve heard artists say before that it can be tough to let an album be done. There’s so much time spent in the creating/recording process that when the time comes to release it from your hands, it’s difficult to not hold on for some last little detail. With broad-scope albums such as yours, do you run into that issue?
We definitely run into that issue but I think we are getting pretty good at not letting it affect us overly much. I know I’ve personally thought of many things I would change or adjust but I’ve never brought them up to the band and we didn’t go back to the studio and change a thing about it. We left everything pretty much as-is. It’s extremely difficult to call a record finished but making that decision is preferable to continually adding bells and whistles to the production and having a busy sounding record with no added impact or efficacy.
As tough as that whole recording process sounds, it suited this album perfectly. Earlier this year, you released a fantastic split with Panopticon, and then he put out a new full length. How did all of you manage to work that in when both bands were also preparing for a new full length?
We wrote the two songs for the Panopticon split a long time ago but the process of actually getting them recorded and released took seemingly forever. Both those songs were finished before we began writing “Believe in No Coming Shore” so it’s really just circumstance that they’re both seeing release this year. It just happened to fit into the release schedule for Bindrune / Nordvis that way. It’s an absolute relief to finally have the Panopticon split out and to have “Believe in No Coming Shore” seeing the light of day soon. It’s time for us to move on from that material.
You guys have a long-running relationship with Austin Lunn, the man behind Panopticon. I believe he tracked drums on your last album, The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood, and there was also a well-publicized trip to Norway with him. How did your relationship and that trip come about? Was the split something you guys had been planning for a long time?
We’ve been friends with Austin since around 2008-2009. We corresponded basically by hearing each other’s music and chatting about mutual interests. This would have been when “Hail Wind and Hewn Oak” was our latest release and the self-titled Panopticon album his most recent. Anyway, Austin was over in Norway interning at Haandbryggeriet and he wanted Ray and I to come visit. We decided it was a fantastic idea, met him over there and stayed with him and his wife for a few weeks. We had been hoping to make a split record together for awhile but didn’t have any exact plan until mid-to-late 2011 while staying in Norway.
I love the beers I’ve had from Haand, that’s awesome he interned there. While your name comes from the world of Tolkien, your lyrics typically deal with a fairly pessimistic view of the world, and humanity’s destructive place within it. Do you look at major events in human history for some of those themes, or our general arc? If it’s something else entirely, lay the corrective smack down on me.
I think a balance of pessimism / optimism is healthy and important to keep a person grounded, motivated, and willing to make efforts. Humankind has blatantly nutured the development of materialistic and profit-hungry culture but I think there’s strength to be found in that culture’s shadow. The trajectory of the dominant culture illuminates brilliantly what we should try to be cognizant of, what we need to grow out of, and how we can set our bodies and minds to motion and pursue alternatives. I don’t, however, have any concrete answer for you. Nor do I have any particular condemnations to make. There is a lot of suffering in this world and to wield our energies and diminish it would really be something wonderful.
How was your recent run down to Florida for the Southern Darkness fest? Any particularly great shows on that overall outing? Any fun tour shenanigans?
The tour was brief but really encouraging. The highlights would have to be playing here in Portland, with innumerable friendly faces in attendance and a great line-up of bands, and probably the Brooklyn show at the end of the tour. Obsidian Tongue came down for that one and it was a fantastic way to close it out. Every show was memorable in its own way though, brimming with hospitality from Philly, Asheville, Baltimore and Tampa. I’m looking very much forward to our next outing.
Also, I understand you were approached by one of our fellow Flushketeers (Pagliacci is Kvlt) at the Philadelphia show. Was he a total fan boy pain? Because we can dole out punishment to him appropriately, if need be.
He was really nice! We all thought it was great to meet him. With any luck we’ll be back to Philadelphia some time in the future. I can see it happening.
Are there any bands you guys still get giddy about playing with or seeing live?
This month I saw Sun Kil Moon for the first time and I was ecstatic about it. He played with a second guitarist, keyboard player, and two drummers and the arrangements and tonality of the live versions of his songs were incredibly beautiful. The next night I saw Mount Eerie (not for the first time) and the contrast from Sun Kil Moon’s professionalism and accomplished playing to the youthful and “underdeveloped” approach of Mount Eerie glaringly reaffirmed that what makes music great is impossible to define; you can’t fake it or manufacture it. It’s a liberating but also somewhat daunting reality for any musician or artist. And yes, there are lots of bands we’ve never played with that we’d be extremely excited to given the opportunity. Whether or not that ever happens is tough to say.
What do you guys do for fun on tour, besides shrieking at the desolate midnight moon from the edge of a cliff?
We booked our tour with limited time and extended drives between each show. We didn’t really have a lot of time set aside for conventional “fun” since one day we might have to drive 10 hours and then play a show, pass out and do it again the next day. Reading books in the van could be seen as fun. Drinking coffee could be seen as fun. We went camping sans tents one night; just laid down sleeping bags in the dirt and called it a night. I’d say that qualifies as a genuinely good time.
Absolutely it does. It seems like black metal bands have a wide variety of thoughts when it comes to being a black metal entity. American black metal can be a touchy subject on its own, and on the other side of the states from you guys the term Cascadian Black Metal gets tossed around a lot. Fans can assign any number of terms to your music due to the diversity, but is there a frame of reference you would like listeners to have when approaching Falls of Rauros? What are your thoughts on “being black metal” in this day and age?
We’ve always thought of ourselves as more or less a black metal band, and we’re all coming from the viewpoint of having extensive experience with black metal since we were kids. I was absolutely immersed in discovering black metal back in grade school, seeking out the most obscure and oftentimes most awful bands I could find. All these years later it’s not something we feel the need to write and play in any orthodox manner or display outwardly occult or theistic aesthetics. The priority is to be true to ourselves and steer clear of the posturing and pigeonholing so many bands rely on to garner interest and appear legitimate. I listen to a good deal of bands that utilize those tropes and see it as very charming but I can’t find it in me to adopt them myself.
How much of your personal listening library is made up of metal? What non-metal stuff is essential for you?
Metal has played an enormous role in our lives and we listen to plenty of it. I can’t say I’m quite as up on everything as I used to be, but I still keep track of new releases to some degree and I don’t tend to scoff at current bands or whatever’s going on at the moment. I try not to be entirely stuck in the past and on the now classic bands. The rest of the musical spectrum plays an equally important role in all of our lives too. For personally essential music I’ve said it before but Songs: Ohia and all of Jason Molina’s music means a lot to me. Will Oldham, Mark Kozelek, Bill Callahan, Phil Elverum are all very important to me. Six Organs of Admittance, Arab Strap, just to mention a few…
On that note, there is a dizzying amount of great music coming out/already out this year. What are some of your favorites?
This year has been pretty wonderful for music. Favorites for the year off the top of my head would be Sun Kil Moon’s “Benji,” Horseback’s “Piedmont Apocrypha,” Lubomyr Melnyk’s “Windmills,” Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra’s “Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything” but there was a lot more than just that. The new Incantation album was solid. Dead Congregation sold me on their new one, for whatever reason I hadn’t taken the time to listen to them when their last record came out.
Excellent choices! On a different note, can you give me a “quick” gear rundown for the band?
We’ve used different gear from release to release but we’ve had a relatively static live rig the past couple years. Fender Prosonic and Mesa/Boogie Mark V amps, a Peavey bass head (Firebass 700 I think), Gibson Les Paul and SG guitars, Ernie Ball Big-Al 5-string bass, plain old JCM 800 and 900 4×12 cabs, Ampeg 8×10, various pedals, some of which see use while others mostly collect dust. Holy Grail reverb pedals are used frequently as well as Boss and MXR delays. Nothing fancy. Maxon OD-9 overdrive pedals when applicable. Etc. It’s kind of strange for me to talk about gear. I feel rather slovenly name-dropping brands and equipment like it’s a commerical or something.
Not slovenly at all, that straightforward set up works perfectly for your sound. And finally, what makes this so important to you? To put that another way, we all know of the painful reality of metal music. There’s pathetically little money and recognition to be made, but bands like Falls of Rauros are pushing themselves and pushing the genre to be better and to give us the benefits of their monstrous efforts. What drives you as a band and as individuals to do this?
All of us just love music and feel an unrelenting drive to create it, but also we try to avoid simply paying tribute to music we like and to avoid repeating ourselves from release to release. It’s a persistent hunger and necessity; I know personally if I go too long without playing music I feel useless and anxious. I’m painfully aware of my mortality and feel like I have to sustain myself (not financially mind you) through creating music while I’m still breathing. I’m sure the others in the band feel that way as well.
Thanks so much for your time, we really appreciate it. Any last words?
No sir. Thanks a lot for the interview.
I hope all you lifelovers enjoyed the interview. Thanks to Pagliacci is Kvlt for the collaborative interview, and you can thank Falls of Rauros for their time by picking up the new album, Believe in No Coming Shore!