A Very Lizard Interview with Convulsing
Late last year, while you were hastily finishing your precious Album Of The Year lists and making your New Year’s Eve plans, an exceptional debut album was released and did not get the attention it deserved. Originally I had planned to write one of our 2016 In Case You Missed It articles for Convulsing‘s album Errata, as it turns out the album’s sole creator Brendan was kind enough to answer some questions and give us some excellent insight into his music.
As my thoughts on the album would be essentially redundant now that we’ve got Brendan to answer these questions, there’s very little point in me telling you that Errata features an excellent balance between memorable riffs and oppressive atmosphere. It’d be silly for me to bother mentioning that the guitars exhibit deft use of dynamics, pivoting fluidly on a fulcrum between striking distorted barbs and sinister yet alluring clean passages. The latter was one of the reasons my mind initially compared this album to one that came out at a similar time in 2015 and unfortunately escaped consideration during end of year listmania, Awe’s Providentia. I ended up deleting the part where I mentioned that while Convulsing undeniably leans toward a more death metal orientated style, once you hit play it’s hard to not feel an overwhelming blackness, like you’ve been enveloped by a nebulous obsidian orb. It would be a bit superfluous to mention that during the album’s near 50 minute run, it’s easy to lose track of time, and that this is owed to engrossing tracks that allow your mind to sublimate freely no matter how dense an atmosphere they produce. I’ll just leave all that out and get straight to the interview.
[Skip back to track 1]
Lacertilian: Howsit going?
Brendan: Same old shit, really. Coming to you live and direct from my un-airconditioned retail dungeon in Alexandria.
Ugh, just to give our readers some perspective on that, it was 46°C here in Sydney yesterday (115 furlongs per gallon in the old scale). Death. Errata really made quite a strong impression for a debut, which was especially impressive considering you handle all the instrumentation and vocals on your own. Were the tracks composed of ideas you’d had kicking around for a while with the idea to one day integrate them into a more conventional band situation, or was there some sort of catalyst that made you decide to just do it all yourself?
Definitely the latter. I’ve been playing/writing music for close 16 years, but my interests are so broad that I’ve never been able to focus enough on one idea or mood. Because of that there’s never been a set of songs that felt consistent enough that I could release them under the same umbrella, so they just end up in a folder doing nothing. I realised that I was in this awful limbo about March ’16 in the midst of some extended Dumbsaint downtime, so I resolved to do something about it. The earliest ideas that went into it (the first 4 minutes of “Descend Beneath” ) are from some time around November 2015, and the last one (“Dragged”) was November 2016. The track listing is roughly in the order I wrote them, and they’re about a month apart on average. There are two ~8 minute songs that didn’t make it for exactly the reasons I just mentioned, but who knows if I’ll salvage them.
Convulsing started out with the intent to bring together some people in different bands, but it was clear that I’d be doing most of the writing for it anyway because they’re busy enough with their own lives and band responsibilities. I literally don’t do anything at all except drink coffee and play music, so I just went ahead on my own and here we are.
Do you think the benefits outweigh the challenges of creating an album on your own?
Yes and no. The big benefit is that you are in complete control; the only limits your own abilities. You don’t have to make any consolations for the skills of other people, wait for their input, discuss or argue the case for an idea etc. This is also problematic because there’s nobody to blame if it’s shit, and there’s nobody to delegate to if you’re getting overwhelmed. Fortunately in this case my only constraint was “write and release 40+ minutes of my own music this year” so I had a bit of leeway. I did ask other people for their opinions on demos and things, and I credited most of them in the notes, but ultimately it was me struggling against my own inferiority complex. Hard to say if I prefer working this way than collaborating, but I don’t think Errata would feel as genuine to me if I had involved other people.
From what I’ve seen over the past few months the album has been very well received, do you now see it as a viable option to recruit other members for future recordings and/or live shows? Is that even something you’d want to pursue?
People started contacting me about it almost instantly, which still blows my mind. The only promo I’ve done was a single Facebook post to my friends that said “Hey, I made an album this year. If Vermin Womb, Krallice and Porcupine Tree all at once sounds like a good idea, maybe you’ll like it.” Everything else has been a result of other people going to bat for me. Truly humbling. Never thought I’d be talking to Jef of Leviathan about Camel (70’s prog band) because I made a weird bedroom Death Metal record, or have Mike Scheidt of YOB telling me that it’s on “regular rotation”. Why anyone cares at all I’ll never know.
There’ll definitely be more music (I’ve already started for something that should surface in the next few months) but I have no idea if it’ll ever be played live. I didn’t exactly write the songs with that in mind. I guess I could probably play and sing them at the same time, but some are much more challenging than others despite how simple the riffs might feel. Also, there’s the matter of living in Sydney. Skilled musicians usually flee for Melbourne the instant they can afford it, so there’s only a handful of people near me that would be up for it, or even interested at all. Fuck this place.
Agreed, Sydney-siders like to think we have a thriving music scene but compared to the other capital cities it’s quite clearly a falsehood held simultaneously by a few million delusionals; I don’t know how it’s possible but it seems every concert flyer is for another closing venue’s final gig.
Well it’s not *that bad*, we’re all guilty of being melodramatic, but there are undeniable and serious challenges for musicians in Sydney. Regulatory/political ones are the big focus now, but there’s a huge problem caused by the clash of the entertainment sector and residential development. People are making noise complaints about acoustic afternoon shows at little corner pubs in St Peters. So ridiculous.
Guess we’ve just gotta get our trendy pubs off their damn concrete lawns. Very pleased to hear there’s more music on the horizon, will it be another solo venture for you?
Certainly another one-man effort on my part, but the goal is a split. I’m shooting for ~20 mins for my side, ~20 mins for the other. I’ll leave it at that until it actually goes anywhere, but it should. Trying to push myself in a more aggressive direction…
You’re also involved with the instrumental band Dumbsaint who are about to embark on a European tour, what exactly is your role in the band?
I’m really just the newest ingredient in the pot. I was a fan first, and in a series of serendipitous events Nick asked me to join during the final stages of recording ‘Panorama…’. I was there for a good chunk of the recording and mixing, but I only appear in a small section of the penultimate track. It’s been about three years and a few dozen shows since then, including a few performing the whole record live in sync with the film. The band and I share a lot of common musical influences, but none of them also spent 10 years listening to as much Xasthur as they did GY!BE. I guess that’s my role: fresh blood. Maybe also over-playing? Depends who you ask. I definitely don’t feel like I’m an interloper even though I didn’t have a hand in any of the songs so far. The next release from us will be the cement.
Looking forward to that. Dumbsaint’s most recent album Panorama, In Ten Pieces involved the intriguing concept of creating a cinematic piece to accompany the album, if you could choose one film to represent Errata, what would it be?
Dumbsaint has kind of always been a film-centred band. ‘Panorama…’ was just everything turned up to 11 with a full-length companion film designed to sync perfectly to the album, acting even more as a fifth member than in the past. I don’t think I can really choose anything to represent Errata in the same way. Most of the things that come to mind have some sort of peaceful resolution, or a personal triumph. Overcoming adversity, justice for betrayal, escaping isolation. Errata has no such resolution. I intended it to be the remedy to a bunch of my problems, and it has done that, but unfortunately a few of them still persist. If really pushed, I guess I’ll say something like Jodorowski’s “El Topo”. It’s an absurdist depiction of a man’s search for peace, and the bitter realisation that it’s impossible due to humanity’s own hubris. It’s also about four different films at the same time, which is kind of analogous to how I wrote the songs for Errata, hahaha…
Cool, I know we’ve got quite a few Jodorowski fans in our readership. Sadly, the only time I can remember attempting to watch El Topo was whilst in the early morning throes of a mentally dishevelling trip with a couple of friends. We probably ended up bailing and opting for a gentler Planet Earth doco like the massive wimps we are.
He’s a lunatic that’s for sure, but the films aren’t as impenetrable as people think. Once you accept that the symbolism is deliberately abstruse at all times, you can unpack it a bit more easily.
You mention that Convulsing offered some cathartic respite from some personal problems, do you personally feel that introspection generally offers the more interesting path for artistic inspiration?
That’s hard to say. Errata is almost like a chronology of what was going on in my head throughout 2016. Self-analysis is a natural process for me, and I feel like I produce more genuine art when I express myself that way, but that’s not the case for everyone. For instance I feel like Grindcore works best when it’s about societal pressures; anti-capitalism, fuck you/fuck the system type attitudes. Death Metal has its own subject matter, Black Metal has its own…There’s no hard and fast way to inspiration, you just have to find it. For some people it’s definitely easier to inhabit somebody else than to inhabit themselves. Not me, though.
Which bands would you say had the most profound influence on your playing style? Does this differ much across instruments?
Let’s just get this out of the way: Ulcerate. Everything Is Fire fucked me up forever. Changed the entire way I thought about playing guitar and how to structure heavy music; everything since then has been informed by the sharp shift it caused in me. I’ve been listening to that album weekly since it was put out and I’m still finding little twists hidden inside of it. They’re not the first to do something in that vein, of course, but that record had such an impact on me that it’s undeniable. Allan Holdsworth would be next. Everything about his playing is from outer space. The complex chord harmony, the limitless depth of his improvisation, his total command of the guitar (even though he hates it as an instrument). He’s unmatched. I’ve spent most of my life as a guitar player hopelessly reaching for that level of skill.
Last one would be Frank Zappa. Bottomless pit of totally unique music, visionary perfectionist. Basically the physical embodiment of music. There are thousands of albums and hundreds of artists I could talk about that I’ve absorbed something from, but those would probably be the three biggest “Holy shit.” moments of my life so far. Actually… bonus: the first time I hit play on Primitive Man’s “Scorn” I yelled “FUCK!” into a silent peak-hour commuter train. Thanks Ethan!
Instrument doesn’t matter: I’m obsessed by great musicians. I spend more time watching drummers than anything, though.
Love Everything Is Fire, finally getting to see Ulcerate in March, provided Sydney will still have a single functioning music venue by then…
Oh, you’re coming to Direct Underground? Going to be massive. I mean, MGLA, Ulcerate, Départe and Gorguts on the same bill, and in Australia? What universe is this? Make sure you come find me for a beer or something!
For sure! I’ll be the drunk guy in black. I can relate to the spending more time watching drummers comment, I often wonder if it derives from a fascination with ‘the other’. After spending years learning and analysing a particular instrument (even if poorly so, as in my case) it can kinda lose a bit of that initial wonderment and allure. Errata features programmed drums, which I’ve found some people to be strongly opposed to, regardless of their quality, but I think they actually integrate quite well into the record. Do you play drums at all? The composition on Errata hardly seemed like the work of an amateur.
I don’t really play, but I wish I did. I can keep time and do a bunch of basic shit to explain ideas to other people, but I just haven’t put the time into getting chops up to actually play extreme metal to the level that I want to write. Out of all the elements on Errata I definitely spent the most time trying to program convincing, realistic drum parts. I spent a lot of time watching (and stealing?) bits from Patrice Hamelin (ex-Martyr (Can), Gorguts), Gene Hoglan (SYL), Lyle Cooper (Abhorrent, ex-The Faceless) and obviously Jamie Saint-Merat (Ulcerate) when I needed inspiration. There’s plenty of others too, but those guys are at the forefront of playing truly creative and musical drumwork in extreme music.
The penultimate track on Errata is a Porcupine Tree cover, what drew you to include this song in particular for the album? While not totally incongruous, it did strike me as an interesting choice to place amidst the prevailing darkness of these other tracks.
It was actually a complete accident. I’m an enormous Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree fan, particularly that period between 1993 and 1999. I learned that song a long, long time ago, and it’s one of the best examples of how to so much with such a simple idea. Lyrically it’s pretty clearly about an LSD trip, but you can also view it from the introspective and maudlin angle that my songs came from. There are definitely times where I feel like I’m just existing, not experiencing anything or doing anything of significance, and it’s why I made Errata in the first place. I was warming up to re-do guitars for track 6 because the original recordings sounded too sonically different from the rest of the album, started playing the opening chord progression to check levels, and 3 hours later I had it recorded. All the instrument parts, vocals, and some lazy drum parts. Oops? I liked it enough that I decided to included it as a little hint to my influences being far more broad than just cloning Deathspell etc. If he ever hears it, I hope he doesn’t mind.
Throughout the album I can hear what sounds like a lot of layered riffing, do you actively try and find complementary accompaniments wherever possible or do they tend to arise more spontaneously as a natural result of jamming a riff over and over?
There’s actually only two layers most of the time: left and right guitar. That’s just how it comes out when I play. Because I’ve been writing on my own for so long I’ve naturally developed a thing where I often do the work of two players at the same time. This is made easier by playing a 7-string guitar and tuning it to AEADGBE; I can play much wider chords with more interesting intervals without ripping my left hand in half or double-tracking. A ton of parts on the record were completely improvised, and some are un-reproducible unless I decide to go back and learn them, so I suppose there is an element of spontaneity present. Mostly it’s just how it comes out right off the bat.
Is there a particular piece of gear or effect that you enjoy experimenting with the most? Any that you don’t currently have but would love to get your hands on?
Montreal Assembly’s Count To Five. I love that pedal so much but it has been fucking impossible to integrate it into anything I’ve written so far, whether with Dumbsaint or on my own. I try at every opportunity; no bueno. It’s a multi-head digital delay, slicer, looper, randomiser thing. Incredibly difficult to predict what is going to happen once you start playing, particularly in the more randomised settings. So much fun though.
I have three boxes left to tick on my wishlist then I can probably stop: 7-string Electrical Guitar Company Model 500 or Series One, a working Traynor YSR-1/YBA-1 and a Montreal Assembly Zellersasn. If anyone out there has either of the latter two, please get in touch! The EGC was an impossible dream until recently, but there’s yet hope…
Australia offers quite a diverse collection of metal bands these days, and while there are a shitload of Aussie acts getting some well-deserved appreciation overseas there are always hidden gems out there to be discovered, do you have anyone you think needs more attention?
How much time to do you have? Hahaha… One thing I would really ask is forget about only Metal: there’s just so much stupidly good local music happening as a whole. Here’s a stack of names, I encourage you to look them all up without prejudice.
Non-metal/hybrids: half/cut (Melb), Instrumental Adj. (Syd), Old Love (Melb), Hashashshin (Syd), Solkyri (Syd), Deafcult (Bris), Low Season (Bris), Requin (formerly Post Dream, Bris), Sleep Decade (Melb), Epithets (R.I.P., Bris), Tangled Thoughts Of Leaving (Per), Meniscus (Syd)
Metal: Temple Nightside (Unknown), Moon (Bris), Grave Upheaval (Unknown), Merchant (Melb), YLVA (Melb), Greytomb (Melb), Advent Sorrow (Per), Somnium Nox (Syd), Impetuous Ritual (Bris), Dead River Runs Dry (Syd), Inclemency (Syd), Spire (Bris), Midnight Odyssey (Bris), Woods Of Desolation (Syd), Stargazer (Bris), Ill Omen (Unknown)
There are just so, so many that deserve more international attention. Some are more hidden than others and I’ve left out some obvious heavy hitters, but they’re all incredible. I could (and often do) go on for hours because this is pretty much all I care about. To have been mentioned in the same breath as some of those names above is humbling.
Thanks heaps for your time!
My pleasure, really. Definitely come find me at that fest in March. Also, allow me to shill my ‘real band’ a bit: http://dumbsaint.bandcamp.com. We’re aiming to record and release a few new things in the early part of this year in the lead-up to our EU tour, so that’s what’s currently taking up my time. Trying to do Convulsing simultaneously to that, so keep an eye out for that too if you can be bothered \o/