Embers - Steve, Timm, Jerry & Kelly
27/04/12 || Curt
Embers are a black metal band from Oakland CA that was formed in 2004. They have shared the stage with bands as diverse as High on Fire, Eyehategod, Nachtmystium, Wolves in the Throne Room and Ludicra. The band’s latest album “Shadows” is available as a pay what you want download on Bandcamp, but don’t take that to mean that because they aren’t on a label that they’re no good. In fact, the band play some high quality black metal. Check out what the band has to say and then go download the album-but pay something for it if you like it!
Global Domination: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Your album “Shadows” has been out for some time now and received good reviews pretty much everywhere that it’s been covered. Were you surprised at such a positive response?
Steve: I definitely appreciate all the support the album has received! The most surprising thing about the response is not so much the positive nature of feedback we’ve received on “Shadows”, but more the number of people who have listened to it, downloaded it, and provided that feedback. Our previous albums had positive reviews as well; just not as many reviews in total. Certainly making “Shadows” available for “pay what you want” at http://embers.bandcamp.com has become a real game changer for us. Something we realized was that requiring money as a barrier to access our music hindered our ability to reach listeners. At first we thought we’d allow the donation based download as a promotion for our tour, but we actually realized that we made more money when money wasn’t a prerequisite for the download.
Timm: The response has been amazing, of all the music we have released it is far far my favorite and it seems that i am not alone on that. The coming double 12” release in late May, at the start of our 3rd European tour, seems pretty highly anticipated by many.
Can you briefly go over who Embers is, and your history as a band?
Jerry: Embers is a project/ friendship born in the Bay Area, an act of convergence in different and overlapping commonalities of our passion to express our musical, social, artistic etc. ideas and experiences.
Steve: Regarding the band history, Jerry, Kelly, and I started the band. We had already recorded “Memoria In Aeterna” as a three piece before Timm, Nine, and Lillian joined the band and so we had to redo much of the recording. “Wrath” was written and recorded with the full line-up. Afterward Nine went on hiatus from the band. “Shadows” was written and recorded with the line-up of Jerry, Kelly, Timm, Lillian and myself. Lillian is no longer in the band. Sadly, Nine passed away during her hiatus. Now we perform as a four piece.
“Shadows” seems to have a very dreamlike quality where it seems to suck the listener into the songs. How do you guys come up with your songs?
Jerry: Many of our songs are introduced on a foundation of presenting a story, idea or emotion usually catalyzed by bass or guitar and then adding different individual layers as narratives to build on the journey of our songwriting mostly creating a cyclical process and climax.
Steve: For my part I like to focus on melodic elements and explore them in variations. I attempt to connect the shifting parts of songs by linking melodic components together. When that is combined with Jerry’s drumming style the cyclical ebb and flow manifests.
Timm: for me a lot of it comes from a deeply emotional place where sadness, rage and joy all meet.
I have seen that you guys are encouraging donations for your album so as to finance a European tour. Has this been successful so far? Where about’s in Europe will you be playing and who are you playing with? Anything else planned for while you are there or is this strictly a tour?
Kelly: We’ve been fortunate to have support from the underground music community who appreciate the opportunity to pay what is comfortable for them as a donation for the high quality download of our new album and other tracks on our bandcamp profile. So I would say say yes, this has been successful. The tour dates and places for our upcoming tour can be found on Iconoclast’s website at www.iconoclastrecords.org. It would be best for people to go there for up to date information. We’re not sure yet who we will be playing with. This will be strictly a tour for us, no one is staying behind this time to hang out afterwards.
Many black metal bands and fans seem to be concerned about too much press on them so as to preserve their “mystique” and cult status. Are you concerned about this? Should black metal musicians keep up a mystery about themselves? What are your thoughts on this?
Jerry: My thoughts are that black metal is a serious musical/cultural/artistic art form that I do not personally represent and don’t think it’s fair to give an opinion or even claim it as a genre. So who am I to say what “black metal” musicians should do or not?
Kelly: We all come from different musical influences so while a lot of people put Embers into the black metal genre, we really come from a mix of genres. We like to blend elements of doom and crust as well other elements into our song structure.
Steve: When we started the band I don’t remember any discussion regarding genre. We never set out to play any particular style. I think our music style derives from having a particular melodic/rhythmic approach infused with the emotions we want to convey. We never set out to be black metal, but I suppose there was a convergent evolution that occurred. I’m not a big fan of striving to achieve a particular perception. That said I support people being “mysterious” or, on the flip side, provocative if that’s how they feel and it’s an important part of their music/art.
A lot of people won’t listen to black metal due to the negative press that has surrounded the genre for years due to books like “Lords of Chaos” and people like Varg, Gaahl and other black metal musicians who have been imprisoned for anti-social acts. How do you think black metal can shake this stigma? Or are you of the belief that black metal musicians and fans should be the anti-social of society?
Kelly: My feeling is that negative press has surrounded many different kinds of anti-authoritarian underground music so black metal is not unique with that stigma. Black metal today has expanded much further than it’s controversial roots in Northern Europe and there is enough socially conscious people who enjoy it and play it to have effectively dispelled much of it’s negative associations.
Steve: So there were a few musicians back in the ’90s who did some stupid shit, and unfortunately they were labeled with the genre “black metal”. Since then there have been a few posers trying to emulate that. Beyond that, this whole stigma is outside of the vast majority of musicians reality who play extreme music, whatever genre you call it. There have been people in every genre of art and music who have done things worthy of contempt. Seldom is the entire genre held accountable to the acts of a few people who happen to play music in a certain style. As someone coming from the punk scene I find the whole idea somewhat baffling. In punk there were many extremely anti-social, racist, sexist, and violent musicians. Despite this the whole genre did not get branded with such a narrow description.
I think to shake the stigma it’s up to people to look at musicians as individuals, and ask what they are all about as people. Once people start looking at musicians as individuals they will realize that there are a large variety of perspectives within any given music scene including black metal.
Is there a philosophy behind Ember’s music? What is it?
Kelly: I think all of the band members have their own philosophy behind Embers but mine is the eternal drive to create profoundly moving music that is an extension of my own internal emotional processes. The mood of our music reflects what is happening in our personal lives and in the world around us.
Steve: In other projects I have been in there were often lyrics that espoused particular political or philosophical viewpoints. Although I respect people who speak their mind and stand up for what they believe I became disenchanted with using the stage as a pulpit for a number of reasons.
First, I felt that much of what I espoused became little more than background noise. There were a lot of bands spewing political rhetoric that people just tuned it out eventually.
Second, I began to feel that preaching to the audience was dis-empowering to the people in attendance. Having a microphone and a P.A. gives a musician more power than the audience members, and regardless of the sincerity of the message, that power dynamic discourages open dialogue and different perspectives.
Third, since so many bands were spewing political rhetoric I began to become cynical. It seemed like the rhetoric became part of the music style and many musicians were not living up to the ideals they espoused. Often it seemed to be a competition to espouse the most radical views with the ulterior motive of garnering more attention for oneself rather than a heartfelt expression of one’s beliefs.
With that said I stopped singing and have felt that the context within which Embers exists is more important than what our lyrics say. I strive toward making sincere connections with the people we work with in the music scene. I aspire to maintain a DIY perspective in our booking and distribution. I prioritize friendship and community above commercial success. I feel that on some level my band mates have similar feelings, but we certainly don’t have a singular band philosophy; just a collection of philosophies that my fellow band mates and I live by and mutually respect.
Recently I have resumed singing and expect to sing on future recordings. I am less cynical than I was when Embers formed, but I do not intend to write overtly political lyrics as I have in other projects.
How is the black metal scene in Oakland? Is there even much of a scene there?
Jerry: I would say that there are many fans of black metal here but not necessarily a BM scene. There are many bands who have BM influences but also many other styles that cross pollinate to create unique forms of metal.
Kelly: I would disagree. There is certainly a black metal scene in the Bay Area. It’s a little more pronounced in SF as opposed to Oakland where we live. The folks who are super into that tend to be insular and only go to black metal concerts.
Steve: The one thing about the Bay Area is that people are very irreverent when it comes to genre. Sure there are a few bands that have a classic black metal sound, look, and performance, but those groups are outnumbered by the metal bands that don’t fit into a particular sub-genre. So the black metal scene is both small and huge at the same time. Kelly and Jerry are both correct.
Timm: Oakland definitely has a great underground music scene from bands to clubs. Black metal assuredly has a place here but there is alot of cross over, punk, metal, crust, etc.. As Kelly said the scene is a bit more pronounced in San Francisco, and San Jose as well.
Who are Ember’s influences both metal and non-metal?
Jerry: Personally I could go a to z with this but to name a few I would say for me Neurosis, Iron Maiden, At The Gates, Ludicra, Weakling, Initial State, Amebix, Rudimentary Peni, Bolt Thrower, Isis, His Hero’s Gone, Swallow The Sun, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest,on and on…
Steve: It’s hard to say. I focus on writing melodies when I come up with ideas. I’m not trying to emulate any particular band usually and when I do it’s only in an abstract way. I would agree with most of Jerry’s picks above. I would add a couple bands that have effected my guitar work in Embers; Sonic Youth, High on Fire, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Slayer, Born Against, Asunder, God Speed You Black Emperor, Opeth, Johann Sebastian Bach, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Fugazi, etc.
Timm: i grew up with a lot of different stuff and a family full of musicians so my greater influences are large and wide. Lately i have been very into Opeth, Amon Amarth, High on Fire, Pelican, Isis, The Sword, Grayceon, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Ninth Moon Black. but at my roots there are bands like Neurosis, Amebix, Scatha, The Cure, Initial State, Hiatus, Johnny Cash, Rudi Peni, Metallica, ABCDiabolo and many many others
What are the future goals of the band?
Jerry: I would like to stay with Embers as long as there is true creative drive. I would eventually like to tour Japan, Australia, Indonesia if possible.
Timm: Maybe a supporting slot on a larger tour, i am excited to see the organic growth of our music to whatever sound it is that we are making
And finally are there any bands you want to recommend that the readers may not have heard of?
Jerry: Dispirit, BADR VOGU, Vulvalard, Atriarch, Speed of Darkness, Cull, Black Queen, Oakhelm, Scolex, Lycus, Neurotoxicity, Alaric, Natures Grave
Steve: Yeah, Kelly and my old band Lesser of Two. Also, Winterthrall, Exhausted Prayer, Destroy Judas, Vanish Twin, Stoneburner, the Makai, Burials, Nux Vomica, and Speed of Darkness to name a few.
Timm: Oakhelm, Fall of the Bastards, Withered, Early Graves, The Funeral Pyre, Grayceon, Walken.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Anything else you would like to say to the readers?
Jerry: Thanks for the interview! Also thank you to everyone who has given us their support and come out to see us in Europe!
Steve: I agree with Jerry on that one. Thanks!