Isis - Jeff Caxide
25/11/04 || Global Domination
Old staff-member Jimmy interviewed Jeff Caxide from Isis for the old GD-site and had this to say at the time:
“Isis started out as a Neurosis clone back in 1997, consisting of long-time members Jeff Caxide (bass), Aaron Turner (vocals, guitars) and Aaron Harris (drums). Since then, they have evolved into a band generating nothing but the highest of praise due to their unique brand of heavy rock laced with atmospheric sections galore. I was introduced to the band via their 2002 release, “Oceanic”, and have been an avid fan ever since.
I interviewed bassist Jeff Caxide in the hopes of getting the low-down on the band’s much awaited new album, “Panopticon”. There’s a buncha other shit in there too, mainly because I tend to talk utter bollocks. What can I say? It’s my first interview… kudos to Jeff for hanging in there with me.
Anyway, hope this stuff is yer poison.”
Global Domination: Thanks Jeff for taking the time out to do this interview. Is there anything you would like to say before we start? How about letting us know what you think of the Global Domination site ( ‘hint’ kickass/brilliant/genius ‘hint’).
Jeff: Hello everyone. Thank you for the interview. The site looks cool. You guys sure like your metal. Kudos to the gal who wrote the Faith No More review of “Angel Dust”. I love that album. I checked out the Iann Robinson interview; I was wondering whatever happened to that guy. I had been told that he doesn’t like Isis but he said otherwise in the interview; maybe he changed his mind. Anyway I’ll get on with the questions.
You’ve just finished work on your new album, “Panopticon”; any words to share with our readers about where you have taken things musically on this new release? I heard that there are clean vocals. What made you choose such a direction? I personally find Aaron’s harsh vocals complementing to the fullest. Are they still on your new album?
I think the musical direction of “Panopticon” is not too far off from where “Oceanic” left off. On Oceanic we really came into our own and became the band we had wanted to be so with “Panopticon” we wanted to continue down that path and at the same time take it in a few different directions. We really wanted to put more of emphasis on melody and atmosphere. We also wanted to have a sense of movement going throughout the whole album. A lot of people have been commenting on the vocals. Some hate the clean vocals while others like it. For us it was about developing. The music was changing so we felt the vocals needed to change to. We also wanted less vocals on the record but that was something we really don’t need to bring up as I think we have been heading in that direction for some time now.
Where do your influences stem from when entering the writing process for a new album? Do they change with every release, with your discovering new bands? Or do they pretty much remain static, only that you develop your music and become more mature in your approach to songwriting? Do you guys even have the habit of writing material in the studio, while recording songs already penned down as complete?
Our influences are all over the place and for me are always changing. I don’t understand how people can only listen to one kind of music or only listen to a handfull of bands. I knew this guy who would only listen to The Smashing Pumpkins, and it drove me nuts. There is a whole world of music out there and life is short. You should take it in while you can. It seems with every album we write I am usually listening to totally different music. I was listening to a lot of stuff that got me into playing music in the first place when we were writing this album, like the Cure and stuff like that. My big influences will always stay with me. Stuff like Pink Floyd, The Swans, The Cure, Mogwai; they will always be an influence. I’m sure the other guys in the band would give you a totally different list of bands. As for writing in the studio, well yes and no. There is always one song that we like to leave open for the studio. The structure will be there and we just kind of build on it. “Altered Course” was like that as was “The Weight” on “Oceanic”. We are always working until the day before we go into the studio. With this album we spent a lot of time with the songs. That’s probably why there are only seven of them. We had two weeks before we went into the studio when we finished the last song and we thought trying to do an eighth would be pushing it.
When it comes to your new album leaking, what are your thoughts on the matter? The reason for which I knew about clean vocals taking up most of “Panopticon” was because of word on the Web, and yet it was at a time where you hadn´t even finished work on the album itself; meaning no promos, etc. The people who condemned such a thing were the very same downloading “Panopticon”. Be honest; what would you do were you to meet them face to face, baseball bat in hand and a twelve inch hunting blade?
I suppose the whole downloading music issue is a double edged sword. You want people to be excited about you and want them to hear you; but at the same time you want them to buy your album, not just listen to it or burn it. But there is nothing you can do about it so you might as well look at the positive side of it. I bet half the people who have already heard the album will still go buy it and if not well, maybe some of those people have never heard us before and will come to a show. It certainly doesn’t make me mad though. That is just the way things are now. These band who go around trying to stop it just look silly. I mean Lars of Metallica complaining about how downloading music takes money out of his pocket. Boo-hoo.
What kind of exposure are you getting in the States? Where are you guys actually from? Do you sell enough to quit the day jobs? If not, how is life treating you in such a respect? Was the desire to follow music just too great, and are you happy with the way things are turning out for the band?
We met in Boston and were a band there for 6 years but now most of us have lived in L.A for the last year. Our exposure in the States is about the same as it is anywhere else although we seem to get our biggest response from the U.K. Magazines like Rock Sound and Terrorizor have been very good to us and that has helped us a lot over there. They are genuine fans of the band where as U.S magazines feel a lot less personal like they are just doing an interview or an article about you because you have a new album out. That’s not to say we are ignored here, it’s just different. As far as record sales go I couldn’t give you an exact number but we do O.K. Most of us work day jobs although some of us choose not to. We are definitely not “living the life”, so to speak. It would be great to make a decent living out of playing music but that has never been our intention. When this band started the idea of making a living out of playing independent/heavy music, it was laughable. We just wanted to play music and hopefully earn the respect of our peers and people we admire. We have done that and then some so yes, I am very happy with the way things have turned out for the band.
Personally, I´m incredibly hyped about the follow-up to “Oceanic”. It took me a while to get used to the sound of that album, and I found it tough to appreciate the atmosphere you fellas were trying to achieve on it. Of course, once everything clicked, I was very impressed. I´m guessing that your friends and families were too, as they saw it fit to re-release it as a bunch of remixes. What do you think of their efforts? Is it really a worthwile, fresh spin on “Oceanic”? Honestly, do you reckon they knew what they were doing? You can be honest, y´know; even though you love ´em and stuff.
Your first reaction to “Oceanic” was a common one it seems. I remember after we sent it out to our friends most people said it took them some time to get into. But I like that. It seems like all of my favorite records took time for me to warm up to. But like I said earlier “Oceanic” was a departure for us. As for the remixes I think everyone involved with the album did a tremendous job. We wanted it to be more of a reinterpretation of what we have already done, not just a few changes to our songs. That’s why we chose who we chose because we know those involved would give us that.
So what are your plans after the album is released? Do you guys plan on touring? When you choose to do so, do you tend to stick to small venues? I don´t really picture you fellas trying to encourage mosh-pits and crowd surfing. So how do you find the fans that come to your shows, presuming that you play in compact spaces and generally attempt to replicate the atmosphere you achieve so well on your albums for a live setting?
After this album is released we are heading out on our first U.S. tour in over 2 years. That starts on November 10th. After that it is off to Japan, Australia and then Europe. When that is all over we will probably do the States again, but opening for someone else. We do play medium sized clubs, and no we don’t encourage moshing or anything like that. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. Once in a while we will get some over zealous fan who will start running into people, much to the dismay of everyone around him. We get a wide variety of responses from our crowds. Some just stand their looking at us, some kind of dance in there own little space while others freak out. It really all depends on where we are playing. People seem to be generally respectful except for those people who insist on standing up front or by the stage and talk (loudly) to their friends while we play.
Do you already know the bands you are going to be touring with? If not, do you have any preferences? Is it your choice, or the label´s? Or do you try to coax your label into choosing someone in particular?
It is 100% our choice who we tour with. When we headline a tour we try to take bands that will make for an interesting evening of music. I can’t think of anything more boring than sitting through a show that only consists of one type of music. For our upcoming tour we are going out with These Arms Are Snakes from Seattle. If you have not heard them I suggest you pick up some of there stuff.
What music do you listen to on the road? Have you heard the new Neurosis and Mastodon albums (if it´s your thing)? If so, what do you think of them? What are “These Arms Are Snakes From Seattle” (that was a joke, btw; hoho) like? What kind of stuff do they play? What else do you guys do for enjoyment while on tour? Seen “Alien vs.Predator” yet? That sucked testes… right?
We all like so much different stuff that we usually end up listening to our headphones on tour. I personally like to listen to more mellow type stuff in the van like Mogwai or Coil or Sigur Ros. I usually read a book or two on tour as well. It keeps me calm. Yes I’ve heard the new Neurosis and Mastodon albums and I think they are both very good. These Arms Are Snakes are kind of in the vein of Fugazi. Kind of upbeat. Really cool stuff. Unfortunately we don’t get a lot of time off on tour but once in a while we will go check out a movie; although “Alien vs. Predator” wouldn’t be high on the list. After sitting through “Freddy vs. Jason” I don’t think I’ll be watching any more “VS” movies.
That film wasn´t so bad. The piece of ass at the beginning was quite something; chunky. I think it would make a great album cover. You guys always seem to opt for sparse pictures with the artwork to your albums. “Panopticon” and “Oceanic” are practically identical, even though they depict very different things. I´m guessing that finding a link between the contrasting elements of land and sea is completely intentional on your part, but why such a decision? Are there any musical similarities, concept idea tie-ins between both albums? I bet you think I´m pretty smart for noticing such a thing…
Piece of ass? I guess I would have to see it to know what you are talking about. Maybe I’ll rent it someday. If I hate it can I send you the bill? Conceptually there are no tie-ins between “Panopticon” and “Oceanic”. It would be hard for me to answer any artwork questions because Aaron does all of it. I can say the theme of the album has to do with being watched. The cover came out of that. The artwork on the L.P. will be much different but will have the same theme. Sorry I couldn’t give you a more in-depth answer. We like to be vague being the pretentious wankers that we are.
Well, whatever works for your guys, I guess… have you ever been unsatisfied with any one of your recordings now that you have evolved into something bigger and better? How about a song or two you could have done without writing? Any messed up stories of “on tour moments” you could do without constantly being reminded of every time a dumbass interviewer asks you to recount such things for the sake of comedic value?
Yeah I guess you could say we are unsatisfied with a few things we’ve done. We don’t play stuff off the “Red Sea” or “Mosquito Control” and haven’t for some time now. I don’t think they’re bad it’s just that it’s not who we are anymore and why get up and play something that your heart isn’t into? I would say the only recordings I am completely satisfied with are “Oceanic” and “Panopticon”. As far as messed up tour stories I can’t think of anything too bad but I will say it seems we attract people who have some strange personality quirks. One time in Detroit we all signed this girl’s CD. She kind of stared at it for a moment and then started licking it. Up until that point I have never seen a person lick a CD. She seemed to really be enjoying it too, like she was making out with it or something! Another time when we were playing in Boston we started playing an instrumental and this death metal looking guy jumps up on stage, arms up in the air, and starts singing. I thought “Is this planned and no one told me?”. Then Aaron gave me that “what the fuck” look and I realized he was thinking the same thing. Finally our drummer got off his kit and literally threw him off the stage into a rather angry crowd who proceeded to kick and punch him. Mike never stopped playing so we just went right back into the song like nothing happened. Someone told me that after he got thrown out he was like “those guys suck anyway!!”. The weird thing was he was singing in time with the song, like he planned it. We always joked we were gonna get him on our next record.
Has there ever been a band you thought would be pretty cool to hang with, only to bump into them on tour and think they were all total coyote-smokers? Any times where you’ve had the misfortune of doing an entire tour with such a band? Any rants you want to go on about bands you haven’t met but still don’t like? Y’know, we take very kindly to Metallica-bashing (edit: I see you got it covered already).
I can Honestly say that I have liked most of the people in the bands we’ve toured with. There are a ton of bands that I have never met and don’t like but the worst would be the self obsessed celebrity types like that jerk who sings for Sugar Ray, Fred Durst, Bono or Marilyn Manson. I REALLY hate U2. They are just a shitty band. Coldplay too. I guess you could throw in any of these mall punk bands that are so popular these days. I don’t really pay too much attention to stuff I don’t like. Life is to short.
I*f you aren’t now, were you ever into metal of any form? Oh, and what do you think of our website? The Audio Autopsy feature is brand new. Pretty snazzy, no? Is it one of the Isis band members who takes care of the web design to your official site?*
I’m not really all that into heavy stuff these days but there are a few that I really like. Jesu is amazing. I like Khanate a lot too. Agoraphobic Nosebleed are pretty insane. But I have never been a metal guy. The first sort of counter culture music I got into was industrial and stuff like the Cure and then punk/hardcore. I guess Godflesh and Ministry introduced me to heavier stuff. But once in a while I would watch headbangers ball or something. It’s not like I thought metal was lame, I was just more into other things. After Ministry and Skinny Puppy, metal seemed a little tame to me. Our website is designed by a guy named Jason Hellman. He has been a friend of ours for a long long time. He also does the Hydra Head site and a few others as well.
Your site says that you have been shooting your very first video. Apparently, you were bombarded with applications belonging to actors wanting to star in it. Are the majority of them fans of Isis, or are they just looking for their fifteen minutes of fame? As for the video, what kind of thing are you going for? Which stations will you be sending it to? I guess it’s too much to ask for some titties to flap about the place…
Our first video just finished shooting. It was directed by our friend Josh Graham who has also directed videos for Dillinger Escape Plan, Bee and Flower and Neurosis. I don’t think he ended up using anyone that responded to our request on our website. I guess they didn’t have what he was looking for. The song we picked for the video was “In Fiction” and we had to edit it down from 8 minutes to 4 minutes. We will be sending it to any station that plays videos but whether they will play it or not remains to be seen. Oh, and we won’t be appearing in the video ourselves.
Isis is signed to Mike Patton’s label, Ipecac. We have a few Patton fans working for the site, from people who love Faith No More, Mr. Bungle and his work with Dillinger Escape Plan. What are your thoughts on all of his projects? Who approached who about the signing to Ipecac? I can imagine Isis’ music being something he would appreciate to some degree. Did he pick up on your music with any album in particular? What did he have to say about your new material, if anything?
Our friend James Plotkin was opening up for Fantomas with his project Phantomsmasher. He handed Mike a copy of “Celestial” and I guess he dug it. We got an e-mail from him saying he really liked the record and was interested in seeing what direction we were going to follow before asking if we were interested in doing a record with his label. I was a big Faith No More fan growing up and the Melvins were on the label as well so we were pretty much sold before we even asked what they had to offer. As for what I think of his projects, there are some I like and some that I don’t care for. I like Fantomas and Tomahawk but I can’t get into the noise stuff that he is into. I appreciate it for being something challenging to listen to but I just don’t have the stomach for it. I like most of the stuff on the label to. My favorite has to be the Boren and Der Club of Gore reissue they just put out. If you’re a fan of Angelo Badalamenti you might like it. To answer the last part of your question everyone at the label thinks Panopticon is our best stuff. They probably just don’t want to hurt our feelings.
I noticed that you are taking pre-orders of “Panopticon”. Don’t take this the wrong way, but twenty-two dollars seems awfully steep. Is it because you get a t-shirt with it, or simply because it’s a special edition, limited copy? What kind of bonuses should we be looking at with such a pricey offering? And what are your general impressions on the music industry? The prices of compact discs are sky-rocketing nowadays (in England, for example, the new Vader and Bloodbath albums are twenty-five dollars each); I honestly fail to see how this is going to improve the illegal downloading/piracy side of things. How is your label in terms of what kind of percentage you get for the music you create?
I don’t think twenty-two dollars for a CD and a shirt is too much. It’s cheaper than what you would pay in a store and about what you would pay at a show. The CD is limited to 100 copies and has different pacackaging. If that is something you are not interested in you could just get the CD at a store or at a show. We have always liked to do limited addition things, as some people in the band are big collectors and are into that type of thing. Some of our fans are the same way so this was something special for them. We are not trying to sucker our fans out of their money, by any means. I will say I have seen things of ours on ebay for 50 to 100 dollars and I certainly think that is way too much! As far as what I think of the music industry, I think major labels are more interested in money than music. Some indies are probably like that as well. I really feel lucky to be on Ipecac. They are VERY artist friendly; they don’t try and trap you and get you to sign for 3 or 4 albums. Everything is album to album. If you aren’t happy you can leave anytime. The percentage rate is really good and a lot better than what you would get from a major label.
What kind of future do you see for Isis, once “Panopticon” is released? How long will you be touring, and how soon before you enter the studio again? I can imagine how such music can run away with you when writing fresh material, and that creativity levels have the potential to be overbearingly fruitful. When do you decide when enough is enough? Have you already written material for your next album? What else will you be doing to promote your music other than touring and the music video? Try drinking chicken blood and raping goats on stage. That would get you noticed.
We are going to be on tour on and off for the next year or so. It will be another two years before we go into the studio again. We never really decide when enough is enough, our deadline usually does that for us. We usually get an idea when we want to record right when we start writing. We left ourselves a lot of time to get “Panopticon” together but in the end I think we could have used another month or two. We are always working up until the day before we go into the studio so I think no matter how much time we had we still wouldn’t think of enough. We did want another song for “Panopticon” but we thought we had seven songs we were happy with and just concentrated on them. I don’t know what else we would do to promote the album except tour and do the video. I dunno maybe I’ll fake my own death, but then again I’m the bass player and no one would care!
When you tour, what are the best crowds to play to? Do you ever tour overseas? If so, (the age-old question) who grooves more? European or American crowds? How about Asia? Basically, who are the best crowds and what makes ‘em so good to play for? I bet you’re pretty fond of Swedes and want to make love to Peter Forsberg…
Yes, we have toured overseas a few times. I find that the audiences in Japan were the best. They were quiet and respectful as apposed to America where people take the quiet parts of our songs as an excuse to shout out a song they want to hear or to yell our name in case we forgot what it was. Some even like to tell us how much they think we suck. But most of the U.S is great to us, especially Seattle, N.Y, Boston; basically the big cities. Once in a while we will play in the middle of nowhere and it ends up being a great show. Europe, what can I say about Europe? It is like a touring paradise. You get treated very well. I would say though that touring the U.K is a lot like touring the States. It’s the same asshole rock club attitude as it is over here. The fans are great though. As for Peter Forsberg, I’m sorry to say I have no idea who he is. Friend of yours? Sweden was very cool though. Gothenburg was the rowdiest show we ever played. Two girls, each about the size of a small house, dragged our keyboard player off the stage. There were a few fights throughout the evening as well. Some guy was yelling at me and Mike for a while but I coulden’t tell if it was insulting or not. It was fun. I can’t wait to go back.
Haha! Funny stuff about your keyboard player. I’m sure some of our site staff will be pleased with what you have to say about Sweden. Unfortunately, we’re gonna have to close it here. Thanks once more for this interview Jeff; you’ve been more than a good sport. Any closing words? Feel free to advertise whatever you want in this space. You could always rave a bit more about Global Domination, the bestest site in the World.
Thanks for the interview and to anyone who took the time to read it, considering how unexciting my answers can be. I would suggest if you like Isis to check out the bands Aereogramme and Cable (the U.S one that is). Both are very underappreciated and represent how diverse extreme music can be. Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox who just won the World Series.
I’m a Cubs fan…
Anyway, cheers once more, and I look forward to seeing you on tour.