“I Quite Enjoy Testing the Limits”: An Interview with Schammasch
Last Saturday, I was afforded the wonderful opportunity to have a Skype call with C.S.R., the front man and heart and soul of preeminent avant-garde dark metal band Schammasch. In the course of our conversation, we discussed spirituality, touring, and artistic expression. Below is a transcription of our discussion, edited slightly to cut down some of my winding questions.
How are you?
I’m okay. Just opened a beer.
Sounds good! So, my name is W, a writer for the metal blog Toilet ov Hell, and I really appreciate you taking the time to answer this call for me. Can you hear me okay?
Yeah, it’s all fine. I actually told Kelly about – I was surprised about the website name.
*laughs* Yeah. You know, that started as an inside joke. Sometimes when you’re doing something for fun, you’re like “let’s go with a silly name” and you send it out and then things start to grow and expand, and you’re like “well, that probably wasn’t the best foresight.”
That’s probably like the same thing when you start a band with a silly name and then you can’t change it, or like a pseudonym or something like that.
That’s right- we actually recently interviewed a band called Camel of Doom, and the main guy behind it was like “I was fifteen and I came up with Camel of Doom because I really liked Black Sabbath and Kyuss, and, you know, now I’m stuck twenty years later with this band called Camel of Doom, so …”
Yeah, well, what can you do. No regrets.
Well very good! Let’s go ahead and get started. So I’ve really enjoyed Triangle so far. You know, releasing a triple album, in comparison to Contradiction, which was a double album, it’s really kind of a test of what seems to be our diminishing attention spans in metal. At least I see a lot of people praising EP’s and we’re moving to a period of releasing more digestible songs. Is that kind of an intentional going against the grain on your part?
Well, I would like to say no, but it was a bit, yeah. It was of course not the main reason to create a triple album, not at all, but it’s just a nice gimmick I would say, because I quite enjoy testing the limits of people when it comes like that to band stuff. And I’m not at all worried to piss people off in terms of length of whatever- I mean, we already had people complaining about Contradiction being way too long and stuff like that. It was just a nice thought to have, like, “Yeah, okay, you thought Contradiction was too long, so fuck you! Gonna release a triple album now!” But yeah, of course that wasn’t the main intention, it was the logical step in the end, going from the number one theme album and following the number one in a kind of Christian Kabbalistic meaning, which was of course continued with Contradiction being the number two. And then it was just a logical step to make it kind of a trilogy going on with all three albums building one trilogy and ending with the number three, meaning unity and the holy triangle, which of course is the symbol of the triangle. So that’s where it came from.
Gotcha. So you’re obviously at least well read in numerology, and you seem to be drawn to it. I noticed a couple other points on Triangle where you’re calling out some other numbers- say, in “Dialogue with Death” you repeat the number one thousand frequently, and as you said, the one-two-three of your album sequence- what is it that draws you to numerology?
Umm, that’s an interesting question. I have no idea, to be honest. I’m basically obsessed with symmetry in a visual way. It always has to be symmetric, like when we do band pics, and I think that also finds its way into the whole metaphor thing going on with Schammasch. There’s a lot of stuff in the lyrics on a very metaphoric level, so I think it’s somehow connected to that thing because numbers are a very obvious- and logic- are a very final way to symbolize things. Maybe it’s that, I don’t know, I never thought about it actually. That’s an interesting question and I don’t really have a proper answer.
So in the press kit I haven’t actually seen those photographs that you took with Ester Segarra, but you had three photographs which were supposed to show the theme of the album developing. How did you pick Ester, how did that come about, and how was it working with her?
It was really cool, like on a really friendly and easy level with her. I got in touch with her because originally I wanted to include William and Valnoir who did the “Golden Light” video and the trailer for Contradiction and other things as well, but William didn’t really have the time and both couldn’t really dedicate themselves to the project enough. So I had to look for somebody else, and I asked my girlfriend about that and she knows quite a lot of people and she lives in London. She came up with Ester and I didn’t really know her, actually, and I just sent her a message and she was really into it and was really interested. I just asked her in the first place to do the band shootings for the album, because we didn’t have a plan back then for the whole artwork story, and after we worked something out for the band shooting I came up with an idea for the whole artwork-photography stuff and asked her if it’s possible to do with our budget. And yeah, she was very dedicated to it and really tried her best to work out the best possible conditions, and did a fucking great job. I’m very satisfied with the outcome of the band pictures and also the artwork.
Very cool! So you mention a lot of having a total artwork presentation for this particular album, and then that ties into-
You mean through the label? The whole promo thing going on?
-yes, and with the photographs and the packaging and everything, it seems like you kind of have a full package, correct?
Yes, right, it’s a box basically, with three different sleeves with the singles.
Okay. Does that connect to the theme that you’re exploring? The album is split into three distinct movements, and having not read the lyrics, to me it feels like a story of rebirth, death, and then rebirth, whether that rebirth is into annihilation or whatnot. Would you mind expanding on that theme and concept a little bit?
Sure, I can do that. Well, basically it’s very near to everyday life experiences such as death, change, losing loved ones, accepting change and stuff like that. So there’s basically three aspects, as you said, to the whole concept. The first one, called “The Process of Dying” is basically about what I just said- loss and death and the acceptance of change as a major part of life, and as a necessary part for creation and the development of the spirit. Then there is the second part, which goes a bit further into the spiritual dimension, dealing with the balance between the spiritual dimension and also the everyday life, which is both a necessary and realistic part to me at least- finding a balance between those two. And the third one, “The Supernal Clear Light Of The Void”, basically the title says it all: it describes the state of detachment from anything earthly, and also the void, of course, of reaching unity with God or with The Light or whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t matter in the end. Yeah, it’s just the state of detachment or enlightenment, there are so many words for that. You just have to be open enough. But that’s basically the concept.
Thank you! That actually reveals a little bit more to me anyway, especially looking at the song titles and everything.
Well, it’s very difficult to put it into a few single words because it’s such a vast concept and it’s such vast dimensions that I could talk for hours, but of course we have to keep it down …
Right- I mean, it’s something people spend their whole lifetime studying, so …
Yeah, and also living it. That’s basically what it’s about. About life and how to create the best or the most fulfilling experience for your own life, and also I hope that people who actually try to get into the whole conceptual side of the album will actually find something useful for their own lives, like in the messages and the things behind the whole music.
I really can empathize with that. So what you just said, and drawing inspiration from, looking for enlightenment and meaning in your own life, that seems to go against the grain with what I perceive to be the general thrust of black metal, thematically speaking, and then what you said about releasing a triple album and everything else- would you say that you’re kind of pushing against the grain of the black metal elite?
I don’t pay attention to that at all, to be honest, because I spent a lot of time in my life dealing with black metal people and considering myself part of those people, and what I’ve learned from that is that most of them are very very restricted horizons, and that’s not something I can agree with. And also I think that I’ve never really seen ourselves- I mean Schammasch- as a part of the black metal scene in the usual way. We never really stated out that we are part of that scene or part of any scene anyway. That’s not what it’s about for me, creating art, to be part of any kind of movement or scene, because that is always restricting things in some way. It’s always restricting, and I don’t think art should be restricting at all. I think it should be here to tear down boundaries and to crush walls and limits and horizons, and that’s what I’m trying to do with Schammasch, and if people calling themselves the black metal elite can’t agree with that, then I’m perfectly fine with that. Fuck them. I don’t care.
You know, I can hear that a lot in your music, actually. I was listening to it in my car earlier when I was driving out and hearing some tribal drum patterns, and you use a lot of riffs and very extended instrumental passages that are pretty unique and stand out from what other people are doing right now. And then you arrive at Disc 3 on the album, which is almost entirely kind of ambient world music, so I can definitely hear what you’re saying as far as trying to create art that’s meaningful to you.
I think actually in doing that, we’re more down to the black metal, to the original meaning of black metal being here for crushing boundaries and limits than many black metal bands today actually are. Because by sticking to the very necessary rules, that’s not very creative to me at all and what black metal nowadays should be, I think. Art is always about evolving and going further, and I think even black metal has to do that in some ways.
So what you just said about the first wave of black metal- connecting on to that, your previous album, Contradiction, was produced by V. Santura of Triptykon, if I’m not mistaken, and then you had Michael Zech produce this album. Do you feel, as a Swiss band, ever that you’re living in the shadow of Celtic Frost?
*laughs* Well, that’s a funny question because during the time of releasing Contradiction and afterwards as well, I got very annoyed at some point by interviewers asking me about Celtic Frost.
Because it would happen in any interview, and at some point I was just like “what the fuck is going on? We don’t have much to do with Celtic Frost. Just because we’re from Switzerland, so that’s it? That’s the whole connection? Wow.” I mean, that’s not really a big connection, is it?
Of course, there were some inspirations on Contradiction, like some actual punctual inspirations, some specific ones from Triptykon and also from Celtic Frost. I love their Monotheist album, by the way, but I don’t see Schammasch being in any way standing in the shadow of Celtic Frost because I think we have created enough of our own identity so far to go far beyond that stage. And also, to add to that thing about being asked about Celtic Frost, it didn’t happen in one interview so far since Triangle, since the Triangle period, which is very very positive to me.
Well, good! Sorry to break that trend, then-
You didn’t, really. I meant more like “how important is Celtic Frost to you?” Questions like that.
Gotcha. My understanding, actually- I read at least one other interview with you where you mentioned that you don’t really listen to that much metal anymore, and that just your life itself would be kind of your inspiration- would you care to elaborate on that a little bit?
Yeah. I think… I think it’s the same for many artists, especially musicians, that their actual life experience is a big influence to what they do. It’s kind of a natural thing, because what else would you express if not the experience of your own life? What else could there be to express? Which includes so many aspects- I mean, the whole religious aspects I’m dealing with are all basically part of my view of the world and life and existence in general. And the fact that I’m not listening to much music anymore probably just emerges out of the fact that I’m constantly dealing with my own music in my head, so there isn’t much space left for anything else when it comes to music. Because I feel it being disturbing to my kind of creative process when I get a lot of outside inspirations from other musics, from other bands and stuff- I’m getting easily inspired [sic] by other music, and I always fear that it will be disturbing to my own processes if I let it inspire [sic] me. Yeah, I think that’s the thing.
That makes sense to me; sort of bringing out your own integrity and life experiences through your music. Actually, touching on that note- it sounds like Schammasch is mostly your particular artistic vision, so what role do the other band members play? Aside from recording their own instruments on the album, is it more just kind of you writing the music, and they come in and play their parts, or what’s the collaborative process there?
Umm … sorry to interrupt, but would you mind if I went and got a drink? It’s just gonna take two minutes.
[At this point, our conversation drifted into a discussion of beer and Texas.]
Okay. I think we were on the question about the contributions of other band members?
Yes, exactly. Schammasch has always worked in the way of me being the main person, doing everything basically, but it’s not like I’m the dictator person, not at all, because we always do our decisions as a group. Even if they don’t have a big direct influence on the whole music thing, like the whole songwriting process and stuff like that, they’re still a very important part of the band because we are all very close to each other as a person, and it’s very important to me what they think of what I’m creating. If I see somehow that they are not really blown away by stuff I write or whatever, then I’m going to think about it twice. So yeah, we’re actually a real band. It’s not like one person doing everything and just has his life slaves, so to say, but still I’m doing the most important parts when it comes to songwriting and stuff like that. And everything works pretty perfectly so far and I’m really glad about that, because that’s one of the most important things when it comes to a band, I think.
That probably helps with the process of touring and everything, because you’re stuck in a van with people you actually enjoy playing music with instead of people that you hate.
That’s absolutely true. I’m a very sensitive person, and being on tour for a month with people I hate- that wouldn’t work at all. I would go absolutely insane.
That sounds terrible. Let’s talk about touring a little bit, then. Do you have touring plans for this album?
Yeah, actually we do. We got a tour confirmed already with Inquisition as headliner, Rotting Christ and Mystifier. We’re going to be the opening slots, unfortunately, but I guess it’s fair. And it’s going to take place in October and November, it’s going to be twenty-five dates or something, something like that. It’s quite a big one, but it’s only Europe of course. Yeah, that’s the tour for now. We had quite a lot of stuff our booking applied for us, but nothing really worked out and so we ended up with that tour, and it’s quite cool. I like the bands and I hope they’re good people, and I hope it’s going to be a successful tour, actually. And also we got some summer festivals going on, but only like four or something in Europe. That’s it for the moment. It’s a bit less than I hoped for, actually, but we didn’t do anything last year and so we weren’t in the press or anything like that, and it’s always hard as a not-well-known band to get into bigger tours when you didn’t really have much press and stuff going on the last year. So yeah. Think it worked out well so far.
I see. Well, I hope you make it over to the U.S. at some point! So, in thinking about touring for this album, the whole Act III of Triangle is mostly, like I said, the ambient world music stuff. Do you plan on playing any of that live, or mostly just the metal, because obviously it would be a little bit different trying to have some of those tracks play while you’re on stage, I imagine.
Yeah, that’s an issue, definitely. I thought about that a lot and I would absolutely love to play stuff from The Supernal Clear Light live, but we are very restricted on money things. We can’t afford to get any additional musicians, which would be totally necessary to do that stuff live, and also like the instruments and stuff- it would be a very big effort to actually get it on stage and do it in the proper way, where it would be worth [it] to do it. So that would probably be something we could do when we would be a headliner or a co-headliner on a tour, but since we’re just an opener slot that doesn’t make any sense. So we decided to just concentrate on the few songs that we’re absolutely sure work live in the best way, and we’re going to use the ambient parts as interludiums [sic] and outro and intro and stuff like that, as samples basically. So that’s where they’re going to be included in the live situations and I think it works really well, actually.
That makes sense. So I imagine for your live setup you’re going to be playing “JHWH”- you said in the past that you felt that that song encapsulated Schammasch, but what songs from the new album are you going to be playing?
We’re not going to play a whole lot, actually, because we played it once live at our release show for Contradiction and it was an absolute disaster.
It’s a twenty-minute song, basically, not quite but almost, and you can imagine we’re going to have a set for like forty minutes as an opener, which is a quite good length actually for an opener slot of four bands, but we can’t spend half of that set on one song, of course.
But we’re going to concentrate on “Consensus,” “Awakening from the Dream of Life,” “The World Destroyed by Water,” “Metanoia,” and “Above the Stars of God.” That will be the live songs, basically.
Very cool. So connecting to that question, then, now that you’re about to release Triangle, do you have a new song that you feel really encapsulates all that Schammasch stands for?
Not really, to be honest. I have songs which I really enjoy to play- one of them is “Metanoia” because I just really enjoy the vocal part there because it’s all clean. And also “Consensus” is quite fun to play. But I think there are so many different approaches and different sides of Schammasch on the whole Triangle album, from every single song, that it’s hard to have a favorite song from the whole album. I don’t think I have one, to be honest. I just have those I enjoy playing, but I think all of the songs have their own kind of vibe and their own place in the whole concept, I think.
That makes sense. Do you have a favorite place to play live? I know you said you didn’t get out last year, but as far as particular countries or cities you enjoy playing, are there any that stand out to you?
You mean area locations or actual locations?
I’m sorry- either an actual city, or if you enjoy playing in a particular country.
When it comes to Switzerland there’s the Set Seven just fifteen minutes away from my place, which is one of the biggest places in the whole country. It’s fucking amazing to play there, actually. We played there once and I hope we’re going to play there again someday, but besides that, when I think back to the tour we did with Secrets of the Moon in 2014, I absolutely enjoy playing in Paris and London because the people were amazing. The reactions were really, like, strong energy going on in the crowd and I really enjoyed that. When it comes to locations, I think I didn’t tour enough so far to be able to say that when it comes to countries other than Switzerland. But I’d love to play everywhere, basically, where people are eager to see us- doesn’t really matter, and I really enjoy seeing other different countries I didn’t see before, and also I’d of course love to play in the U.S. someday and I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen at some point.
I look forward to it! I hope y’all make it over, I hope to catch you. Anyway, I don’t have many more questions, but one thing I always do like to ask when I interview bands would be [that] I really enjoy reading books, and I’m a fan of literature, and I read that you feel that literature has helped you grow as a lyricist and that there were a lot literary allusions on Contradiction. What are some of your favorite books?
Well, I think the most favorite one I always come back to is Les Chants de Maldoror, which is the title in French, The Chants of Maldoror. I don’t know if you know it.
I’ve actually never read that.
It’s a very surreal thing. It’s a very surreal book. I don’t know how to describe that- it’s like a poetic but a very perverted and a very dark work, and it’s got so many different aspects of the human kind in it, and it’s so vast in terms of expression that it always was a big inspiration since I started to read it. It was on the Contradiction writing process, and actually we’re going to do an EP release as our next release, which is planned for being released early next year, and the concept is already there and the music is already there in most parts, and it’s going to be entitled after one chapter of the book Maldoror. And also, actually, that’s probably interesting to say as well- the whole spoken text on the song “JHWH” you mentioned before is actually taken from that book.
Yeah, so that’s one of my favorites, definitely. And probably Goethe’s Faust is one of the more important ones, and I quite enjoy Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to prose [sic] stuff. I’m not going to go into religious things now. That’s always more work than enjoyment. So yeah, I think it’s those three.
Very cool. Thanks for sharing that with me! I don’t have that many more questions, [but] just a silly question I thought of- have you seen the British film The Triangle? I don’t know why I thought of that, I guess because of your album title, but …
*laughs* No. Let me Google that. What is it about?
It’s a very surreal movie. I guess technically it’s about the Bermuda Triangle, but it’s more about this woman who keeps repeating a certain segment of her life as she’s trying to find meaning and cope with trauma. And she keeps repeating this certain sequence where she’s trapped on a boat, kind of wandering around, and it’s very mysterious.
Well, I’m actually very interested in movies, and my girlfriend is even more. She’s an absolute freak when it comes to that, and since she’s going to visit me next week I’m going to watch that movie with her!
Good! You should try to find it. I think you might enjoy it.
It’s not very hard to find movies on the internet anyway, so …
Yeah, thanks for the suggestion.
You’re welcome! I think that covers all the questions I have, so do you have any last thoughts for our commenters, or anything you’d like to share? Any last suggestions for how to engage with the album, or what’s next?
Well, what’s next: we’re going to release a video clip done in Iceland, which is going to be a very surreal approach on the song “Metanoia,” which is already a very surreal song anyway, that’s going to be released around July, August probably. Approaches on the album: I think it needs time to be digested, definitely, but I think it’s also worth it very much. If it’s not going to click on the first listening [sic] then just give it another try and it might actually surprise you, I don’t know. Yeah, but I hope people will actually get it. At least the people we want to reach. *laughs*
Yeah, I guess that’s it! It’s been an interesting interview. I enjoyed it.
Thank you! I enjoyed it too. I really appreciate your time.
Yeah, same to you!
Well, thank you, take care, and I hope you enjoy The Triangle when you end up watching it!
Yeah, we’ll see about that. Have a nice weekend and a nice evening.
Thank you. You too.
Thanks again to C.S.R for taking the time to talk to me. Triangle will be out this Friday, April 29th, via Prosthetic Records. Order it from the label site here or Schammasch’s Bandcamp page here. Make sure you swing by Facebook and tell Schammasch, “Hello!”
(A special thanks to J.B. for the transcription)