Sunday, 2 September 2012

Interview with Umesh Amtey from The Ash Eaters/Brown Jenkins.

The Cruel Side 2011
The world is collapsing slowly. That is the idea one is left with after listening to 'Death Obsession' by Brown Jenkins. Brown Jenkins’s second full-length album was completely a masterpiece. It came through Moribund Records in 2009. Perhaps that is my most satisfying listening experience ever. But the band is no more. Umesh Amtey who served as vocal/guitar duties for years in Brown Jenkins as now he continues Brown Jenkins in the form of The Ash Eaters. Its latest two releases have got rave reviews in the underground. Ask him what the happenings within The Ash Eaters lately are, he says, 

“Everything’s fine with the band and with the music right now. No problems or anything…other than finding all the time/space I need to write or concentrate on what’s happening, but that’s often just a temporary day to day thing. As of right now, the beginning of September, the plan is to write for another two months or so and then release another long EP, this time based around blues music and some of its earliest recording musicians. I've been studying Robert Johnson’s guitar techniques/writing a lot. In the music itself it might not often be so glaringly obvious…but the influence and intent will be there. I don’t know if I’ll be going out of my way to provide blatant signposts in the songs, ha! It’ll just all be there as part of the sound, I think. That’s usually the way I incorporate things”

ST:Your name sounds Indian! Does anything connect you to India somehow? How satisfied have you been after the releases of Ibn Ghazi and Ruining You? Don’t you feel you have more accepted in TAE than in BJ?

My father’s Indian, that’s all. I was born in the United States, not much really connects me to India. I do want to travel there someday, of course. I think I would love it! Hopefully it will be soon.

I frankly don’t know about the level of acceptance, popularity, etc. yet. It’s probably much too early to get a feel for those things right now. The new band hasn’t been around that long, I’m doing stuff that’s kind of offbeat or strange/different, and I don’t think anyone really has a handle on it. That’s okay. I want the music to keep changing anyway. I want every release to be different…although of course it’s always going to be me playing guitar, or writing the music. I know Jenkins had its fans…but to tell you the truth outside of a few friends of mine and musicians I know, etc. I never got much feedback. For the most part that music seemed to be ignored. Maybe people will get into it someday. Who knows? Again, with TAE…it mostly seems to be ignored by larger press, zines, whatever. I don’t really mind it…as long as people are listening to it and like it (or it means something) to them, it’s fine. The internet helps tremendously with that. How many listeners do one need? My main goal is to just build up a body of work, to release things in a consistent manner and to grow as a guitarist and/or musician. I like to work constantly…I want to be like a craftsman or artisan (ha!) or producer of distinct, individual objects. I don’t feel like I’m even close to being able to fully express what I want to say through this form of music…I have to keep this going, expanding, making it deeper…but experience and music play off of each other. As the music reflects more of my inner life I’m able to reflect better on it as well, they mirror each other, double each other’s meanings or messages. They alter and warp each other. I know for a fact that if I don’t go out and have new experiences or change my thinking…the music just stagnates.

ST: Probably, musical styling of Brown Jenkins continues on in the form of The Ash Eaters. I’ll say your music is stereotype, but no other bands sound like this… The first thing that stands out about your music is that it can create a hypnotic mood! You are able to convey emotions through your music, perhaps the most important aspect of your music besides the harsh guitar tones vibe is nothing new for your music. The highlights of your releases are dense production and repetitive riffs, which actually make no sense. Is this something that you especially wanted to incorporate in your compositions?

I love playing and writing for the guitar…so that’s what I mainly concentrate on…and I seem to be naturally attracted to really dense, crowded, complex soundscapes in rock music, just layers and layers of individual guitar parts weaving in and out of each other. I don’t really know what people are hearing when people say the music is “repetitive” or whatever, that’s often just the surface layer, I guess? Underneath that there are all kinds of things flying in and out of the main riff themes or melodies, adding to them, subtracting from them, harmonizing, etc. So if one really pays attention I think it opens up a bit more. I don’t enjoy simple, obvious music…to me it has to be technical and intricate in order to hold my attention or interest. I suppose that hypnotic, “airless” quality comes from the density, as you said, one’s ears can get overwhelmed…but that’s my favorite feeling in music! I want it to create an entirely different/new world the listener can get trapped inside, I want it to be suffocating…but also, yes, emotion is really what drives the music when it comes down to it. There are a lot of little technical flourishes and musical puzzles, etc. that makes me smile but the end result must be emotional, evocative, and able to transport me (and hopefully other listeners) outside of “reality.” I love that in music…the ability to create atmospheres and emotional landscapes that escape the ability to describe them with language, they are both below and above the relative irrelevance of paltry, pale, one-dimensional words.

ST: You grew up listening 80’s, 90’s metal. So you’ve literally seen different eras in metal and you must have good enough experience, what I’m saying is do you wait for music to come to you or do you keep up some sort of writing routine?

I practice every day…and I try to write every day as well. I actually have a routine, I plan out everything, so…yes, I never wait for “inspiration”, I think that’s a mistake – I believe I learned that from reading about Rodin or Rilke, I can’t remember. Be open to inspiration, yes, but also just be constantly working anyway. Force yourself to if it’s necessary. I could wait for years for the “right” inspiration! I suppose practicing guitar and then writing are just part of my “lifestyle” at this point, it’s like anything else…eating, working, exercising, listening to Coast to Coast AM, etc. I try to produce a few good riffs or song segments every day…it doesn’t always work. Some days I won’t be able to write anything, some days I’ll write ten perfect riffs in a row without stopping, breathlessly. That’s a great feeling when that happens. But…it’s like being a fiction writer (I suppose it’s just another species of this), if you produce a certain amount of work each day it just builds and builds up and before you know it you have a finished album, EP, demo, whatever. The important thing is to exert oneself, to stay busy/active, learning, writing, experimenting, listening, and thinking about music, the pleasure is in this work itself. It’s rewarding in itself every day. Also...if you have a large amount of concentrated work to look at when assembling songs or albums or whatever, you can afford to eliminate everything that doesn’t directly add to the impact of what you’re trying to say. The weak parts are left behind, if you’re lucky. I suppose that’s also a matter of subjective judgment, of course. Luckily I’m the one writing so I get to decide. 

But also, regarding the first part of your question: I’ve been listening to metal since about…’85 or ’86. So, yes, I’ve seen many things come and go. I still think there is a definite “history” and path of evolution, something musicians are themselves constantly playing off of or toying with, referring to, etc. and that part of the overarching genre continues to excite me. I find it difficult to understand why anyone would ever want to stop experimenting or creating new things and just am “satisfied” with a set style or form of music, never changing…or the people, for example, who attempt to simulate/mimic/emulate styles from the past. I don’t comprehend the motives, the results or the enthusiasm. One must always move forward because life itself is changing, the history outside of music is changing.

Cold Hearts (2011)
ST: My first exposure to The Ash Eaters came from hearing the demo ‘Ruining You’ and I was extremely satisfied with it. What prompted you to dedicate ‘Ruining You ’to your girlfriend Mary and to the city of Austin? Four tracks for 40mins long demo and all the songs are relatively lengthy. You wanted this demo to be more personal and profound?

Well, the first release, “Cold Hearts”, was actually the demo per se. That was recorded in 2010 during and between moves around the US. I finally released it in 2011. It then hit me, you know, that in this day and age there’s no use calling a release a “demo” or an “EP”, a “LP”, anything at all. There’s not really much of a point in even having a “release date.” So now I suppose I’ll just title releases and people can decide what they are. Ha! But… “Ruining You” has five songs on it…I called it the first LP although it was actually recorded before “Ibn Ghazi.” It’s more than two years old at this point…in the meantime my playing and writing has been progressing as usual, only a small part of which was displayed, I guess, on “Ibn Ghazi” as the latter was written/recorded very quickly. What I tend to do is work on a release, record it and…then it simply sits there until I feel like letting other people hear it.

As for dedications…the reasons for dedicating it to my girlfriend should be obvious, I hope. I also dedicated it to Austin because that city means a lot to me…both throughout my emotions and imagination and then as a thread through my personal history. Austin has always been very inspiring to me. I suppose “Ruining You” is more personal…as it’s mostly about women from my past! It was put on paper in a time of deeply disturbing turmoil/upheaval, to say the least. “Ruining You” was mainly written in a burst about two months long. That’s probably the shortest writing period I’ve ever had for an album…so I guess that stuff just needed to get out.

ST: Have you continued to write your lyrics in the same way as you did in Brown Jenkins? From ‘Ruining You’ - “No Road Back as we fated to death! Vulgar-winged with fear! Delicate sense of gunsmoke! No road back at all!” What were your thoughts while writing ‘No Road Back’? A recent survey found the US rate of gun related murders is almost 20 times higher than next 22 richest and most populous nations combined. A dozen guns are legally sold every minute in the US! A gun cultures that glories violence, increasing religious intolerance, racial tension. And there have been mass murders occurring where lone gunmen shoot innocent people: first, there was the incident at the theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20th where 12 people were killed and 58 injured. Ah! It’s weird and pathetic. Tomorrow it can be any one of us.

The gun violence in the US has a lot of different causes…I feel like most of them are simply clichés at this point and there isn't much use going into them. This country is tearing itself to pieces as it’s manipulated by the wealthy, plutocrats, corporations, globalists, etc. Divide and conquer the same old story. But to answer your question: I usually work on lyrics very slowly, just building up phrases and sentences the same way I collect riffs or song segment ideas/themes, at some point they get put together into a cohesive whole…and then I’ll go back and rewrite them, edit them, etc. All of the lyrics have really personal meanings, I’m not sure I could ever fully explain them. I think they compliment the music and vice versa. I hope that people read them…but I know how it often is, mostly people seem to be interested in the music alone. That’s fine. Only when I actually plan out vocal patterns or whatever (and that’s rare these days) do I change things around to suit phrasing. As far as that particular song goes, “No Road Back”, what can I say? It’s about Texas and a girl. *grin*

ST: Hate, Depression, Melancholy are integral part of your band’s theme. What are other themes that are important to you as a musician? How serious do you take the lyrical side of your songs?

I really enjoy writing the lyrics, they’re very important to me. So important, in fact, that I often don’t want to mangle them by actually singing them. For me they’re just texts to accompany the songs, I don’t think of them as being something I want to force down someone’s throat (or ears) by screaming them over the rest of the music. But…themes in the music? I hope they’re obvious in both the guitar writing and the lyrics, right there on the surface. So, yes, it’s a lot of melancholy, insanity, depression, bitterness, disgust, disappointment, outright hatred in places, but it’s also an attempt at transcendence, at rising above all of these “all too human” concerns. For me this music is very soothing, bracing, cheering…it helps to heal. I don’t know what it’s like for other people. This kind of music makes me very happy. I like to sit right in the middle of all of that chaos, usually with a smile on my face. 

ST: Would you say that poets are natural ambassadors?

In that they can often express and/or explain things that other people can’t, or create empathy through relation of the subjective (molded into a verity, an “eternal” value)? Yes. But poets have also been documenters of dissent, fomenters of revolution, seducers. I can only think it depends on the individual writer.

ST: 'Ibn Ghazi’ is heavy and raw with plenty of dissonant atmosphere. Indeed, I can think of no other band that would sound the same or similar. ‘Cold Hearts’ (2011) has to be the best sounding release which you have ever produced. The mastering task was suavely accomplished by you and did a great job there. Besides the male sound chanting make it more amazing. Umesh, There is a clear Paracletus (DsO) feel on Cold Hearts. Do you really recognize your music as the French sound?

I really like/ enjoy a few of the French black metal bands. Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, Aosoth, etc. I don’t think they have any influence whatsoever on my music, though. In a few cases it might simply be that we all share (along with many others) a similar approach to warping black metal and guitar playing into a more “modern” form to reflect our reality through dissonance and odd chords/harmonies…but in black metal now this entire paradigm is something of a given quantity, it seems to be the accepted path towards progression and experimentation. It’s just one path among many, however. Black metal, as an all-encompassing genre, is so varied, large and niche-ridden at this point that I don’t know if the label even means anything anymore. I just call it all “rock music.” The thing is…if one is a rock musician, to me that means being able to sample from, explore or reference every other form of rock. It’s a massive legacy/history to wrap one’s head around at this point. There are ways of disappearing inside of it everywhere, at any point in the past.

ST: The artworks associated with your releases are very simple but it seems that you are very influenced by art in some ways. Why did you choose such drawings for the front cover of (Cold Hearts, Ruining You) releases? I feel it too amateurish; I’d like to know the reasons that led you to pick those specific drawings. What got you interested in Art works? 

A lot of the time, in terms of design, I tend to prefer bold, strong images and very simplistic/minimalist layouts. I suppose the basic idea behind the art for the first four releases was to have a kind of old school, ‘90s death metal demo feel to it, just have the xeroxed art and not have any distractions. I usually prefer black and white things…not just in album art but in almost all things. I also feel it kind of displays the point of the releases anyway: the music, not much else. So of course it’s “amateurish” but then again this is an age of bands trying to attract people solely through cover artwork and bizarre logos or whatever…I don’t care about any of that. I gravitate towards iconic images, you know? I think the images on the covers of the releases pretty much explain/give the general feel for the entire thing. Whatever’s left outside of the music itself is in the lyrics, that’s where the real story resides. But I’ve been interested in art and design for a long time…if something looks “amateurish” it was meant to look that way. Ha! I’m not exactly sure what first drew me to art…the same instinct I had to pursue literature, I suppose, or music. All of it = culture or intellectual productions of societies and that’s what I’m mainly obsessed with. Believe me…if I could draw or paint at all I would simply do all of the artwork for my own releases. I’ve had a few bad experiences with visual artists in the past (the usual things, I guess) and these days…often I would rather do everything myself. Why not? Besides…it tends to speak to the point of this band being different, not just slapping a silly logo on top of whatever artist is currently trendy and hoping it will move some units. I dislike that entire notion of “product” design, like records or albums or whatever is just another consumable object…”entertainment.” No logos, no standard art, no touring (if I’m lucky), no street team, no bullshit label “promotion”, no t-shirts and coffee cups and Frisbees, no lifestyle branding, no corporate “sponsorships” - it’s band, not a vending machine. It’s about the music.

ST: What does the artwork for Ibn Ghazi represent?

Almost every aspect of that recording comes from studying the Koran. Every line of the lyrics is either a direct quote from the Koran or a line that was changed in a minor way. The image on the front is an old qibla indicator, used to find Mecca from one’s location while traveling and the handwriting, etc. in the artwork is either quotations from the Koran or complementing Biblical scripture. It’s all mixed together. The phrase “Ibn Ghazi” comes from Lovecraft, however. Of course! I don’t know if all of this actually “represents” anything…it’s just part of the overall work. The music and the lyrics/art reflect each other to create a whole, an entity. I like to think of these things as something one would see in a dream, maybe not completely in reality.

Ibn Ghazi - (2012)
ST: Brown Jenkins gained a lot of attention through a short period as released two masterpiece full length albums, two demos and Ep’s in between three years. Are you happy with what you've achieved with Brown Jenkins? How has Brown Jenkins shaped or changed your personality?

Sure, it was great for the time and I felt like the band had the number of listeners it deserved, I suppose. I know that music means something to people and that’s interesting/pleasurable for me, it makes one feel like one’s music matters. Then again…with the last LP, “Death Obsession”, I felt a great reluctance to continue. I didn’t enjoy what the legacy of the band was setting up for its future. I hope that makes sense. I no longer liked the name, I didn't like the older music, I wanted to escape everything the band represented and the time, in itself, when it was written or recorded. “Death Obsession”, in particular, was written at a really bad time in my life and I feel fine simply leaving it behind like a monument. I rarely listen to that music anymore, to tell you the truth. Perhaps it’s too personal; it’s like a time machine. I don’t want to go back there! 

ST: How did you become interested in the works of Algernon Blackwood and Lord Dunsany? Can you briefly discuss your research interests?

I don’t remember exactly at this point…it’s been a long time. But it was probably through Lovecraft. About ’92 or ’93 I started studying “weird” or occult/supernatural literature, its entire history, in depth and I moved from one writer to another in a type of of natural progression…either sampling or reading entire oeuvres. If anyone reading this is interested in such things I highly recommend Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” It’s still a fantastic study or overview of the genre. But I was studying British and American literature in college anyway…this was simply a part of my independent research. I read everything I could get my hands on…luckily I was blessed with a fantastic university library to go through (The University of Texas). Blackwood and Dunsany were both tremendous influences on Lovecraft…but I still prefer Blackwood’s fiction. Dunsany is often much more of a fantasist or myth-maker, Blackwood was interested in various psychological aspects of horror or the supernatural. For me, still, the most important writers in that form of fiction are Machen, M.R. James, LeFanu and Blackwood. I can almost dispense with the rest!

Death Obsession
ST: Most of your projects are short-lived. And in some of the situations it has in turn caused abrupt endings to otherwise promising projects. You are associating with black metal only or do you think that other metal genre such as Death metal is a limited musical form, that you can’t really progress?

I suppose at this time I can claim the music of my band fits in this or that genre…but the truth is that I don’t really know anymore. I started out playing metal, of course, but grew into playing all different kinds of things. I try to incorporate everything I like into what I play…or rather, I don’t even try, and it’s just there. So I honestly don’t think of “genres” anymore or anything like that…if music has a guitar in it, for example, I just think of it as “guitar music.” I don’t want to have any limits whatsoever on what I can play, or what I can use in a song. For me that’s what this new band is really about…no limits, no genre boundaries, and no real definitions other than just “rock music” right now. But…of course a lot of what I was originally inspired by to write stuff for the guitar is still going to come through. There’s a lot of post-punk music in there, noise rock, black metal, old death metal, pop, blues, whatever. I want to incorporate more and more…but (most of the time) solely by using the guitar, not adding in specific genre qualities or signifiers by piling on samples, synths, FX, etc. I’m still convinced that the perfect rock band simply equals guitar, bass and drums. Sometimes vocals. Ha! No matter how long the projects or bands stay around…it’s always going to be me doing the writing, so…whatever? I suppose it’ll always really be the same band in different disguises. I do often think that death metal, in the traditional sense, is a really limited genre…but there have been bands that successfully warped those genre boundaries/definitions to a remarkable degree, creating originality through creativity, stubbornness and undiluted personal expression. Black metal might be a little more open now…but maybe only, as I was saying before, because the genre envelope was ripped open a long time ago. One can get away with calling almost anything “black metal” these days…I suppose all it really means is that the musician(s) at some point were influenced by recognized black metal originators. Every week, it seems, some new band comes along and pushes the boundaries farther back. This is a good thing…at the center, at the core, something is still inspiring everyone.

ST: You are a voracious reader I presume.

I read a lot…it’s a habit I formed at a really young age. I've always loved to read and I hope that will never stop. Originally, going back to when I was a teenager (or maybe even younger?) I wanted to be a writer…I was attracted to the pursuit, the passion in it, the idea of being an artist in that way, the clichés surrounding the lifestyle, etc. I decided to simply read every “great” work of literature ever written in order to train myself for that life…so for years and years that was my main pursuit, reading and thinking about literature all day, every day. I later grew extremely disenchanted with those ideas and moved on to other pursuits…but I still read, I still follow contemporary literature and/or writers and I’m constantly going back and revisiting things I read before. Fiction, however, no longer interests me that much anymore. I’m usually reading history these days…

ST: An interview with Umesh Amtey was one of my dreams! I always had in mind to conduct an interview with you. Thank you that are all from me.

Thank you very much, Ebby! I appreciate the time and effort you put into this interview and I hope I answered most of your questions. If any readers want to hear the music of The Ash Eaters you can go to:

Thanks again!


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