Well, why don't you start off this interview by telling us what exactly is going on in the Avernus camp lately? The last I had heard you were preparing material for a new release? You have a new website and things seem to be back on track with the band...
Rick: Well, at the moment we are basically on hiatus, due to certain members quitting and others having important things going on in their lives right now, but we'll see what transpires in the future. Avernus is NOT dead or "broke up", just a little vacation, time to write, etc. We do have enough material to release a full length, but by the time we either find a label who wants to work with us, and put us in the studio, or we find the dough to do it ourselves, some of these songs may become obsolete, or maybe we'll have even stronger material by then.
James: Things were back on track for awhile there, we had the demo circulating, I had some great shows lined with up with big headliners, then our last drummer Bill just seemed to lose interest and left, and drummers are by far the hardest position to fill in this band, because there has to be times where the guy plays very minimalistic beats and alot of drummers around here just want to grind away and show off. So I had been working with a new drummer, but then of course we went on the involuntary vacation. Other than that, I've got quite a few different ideas rolling around in my head. We could definitely have enough material to release a new album, but like Rick said it comes down to money to record it and release it, which we can't afford on our own right now. So I've been making copies of the last demo we recorded and passing them around, just for something to have. I did shop the demo around briefly to a few labels and got a little interest but no one has really seemed to want to sign us. The new website is killer and I have to thank my friend Mariusz from Demons Lovers Society in Bulgaria for taking care of that for us!
Who exactly is involved in the band now? How many of these people were "original" members (actually Rick is the only founding member left, correct?), or have been involved in the band for a long time? I know that you have had a lot of line-up changes, or at least it seems like that to me. Are there any specific reasons for this, or is it just because of your long history - the natural process of people becoming interested in the music and then going on their own paths later? Do any of the members of Avernus have side-projects or other bands?
Rick: Right now, it's only me who is the only remaining original member of the band, and yes those who have left, have done so because of disinterest, or the usual "musical differences", but James and I are so used to it, it doesn't phase us, but it does slow things down. James is also in Fleshgrind, and about 800 other projects, hehe, the rest of us may do something in the future, at the moment school is my only other project.
James: At this time, Avernus consists of myself, James Genenz, on guitar, Rick McCoy on vocals, Brian Whited on bass guitar, and Jeff Joseph on keyboards...Line up changes are almost common place in this band, people do seem to lose interest or get lured away with the promise of the bigger better deal, it's happened alot and hopefully wont happen too much anymore because the four of us are the tightest knit Avernus line up yet. Brian is playing bass for Novembers Doom at the moment and I play bass for a death metal band called Fleshgrind. Recently, I was asked to play bass in a new band with my friend Mark Kolar (Sarcophagus), it's more of an At The Gates thrashy style which I liked when I heard what he had so far. I'm also organizing a project called Grim Anatomy which will probably be VERY fucked up, super slow and total doom. I hope to have Rick help with some vocals and maybe the other Avernus guys on a few things here and there, I also have other members of various bands interested in contributing.
Let's talk about doom metal for a second here: what exactly draws you to this style? Other than the obvious, I mean...what characteristics of this style make you return to it again and again? Avernus has quite a reputation in underground doom circles because of your celebrated 'Sadness' demo material, and I would think that you would return to a genre that has given you so much support, but have you ever really wanted to branch completely out of this into another type of music? Over your history Avernus has tried (both successfully and unsuccessfully it seems) to incorporate all kinds of different influences and styles into its original sound, with mixed results. What remains and what has been tossed aside after this experimentation? How do you really decide what elements you should keep? Is it based on any way on the kind of feedback you receive after a release?
Rick: This type of music is done out of love for this style, because there is no way it will ever find a market as large as, let's say death metal, what I mean is that it isn't for everyone, and it takes a certain kind of personality to want to play it, much less listen to it all the time. I enjoy all types of music, and I while I don't listen to a ton of doom, I feel I can express myself the best in this style. It helps me escape all the negative emotions that eat at me like cancer. I also love the brutal stuff too, but I only get anger and aggression out of that. With doom, I can run the gambit of emotions, from anger to sorrow, to reverance. Our new stuff kinda picks up where "Sadness" left off, though it's not a carbon copy, as the band is totally different now. We did some off-center things in the past, as we felt the need to branch off and try new things. Some times it worked, a lot of times, it didn't, but that's how you learn. We felt that going back to the "Sadness" style was the best thing to do, as we felt we should maybe just write music that WE wanted to hear instead of trying to create something so out of the world that it isolates everybody, I mean nothing wrong with trying something new, that's cool, and we did it too, but sometimes you just gotta write some dark, and heavy tunes, and not care about what everyone else thinks. If I were to do something totally wacky, it would have nothing to do with Avernus. I personally want to keep the elements of death metal and doom in Avernus, something maybe we should have done in the first place. Yes, we can incorporate different ideals into our music, but it's important to keep that heavy aspect intact. You learn what does and does not work after the fact. Case in point: "Of The Fallen".
James: I just love the feeling I get from listening to doom metal, I get feelings from every kind of music but the feeling from doom metal is just overwhelming sometimes, could be the depressiveness in the songs or not, I don't know, I'm not THAT depressed, I go out and have fun and drink, party, laugh and joke, go to hockey games, concerts and have a good time, but all in all I do have clinical depression and maybe the music somehow helps me deal with it in a certain way. Our decision to return to more of a doom/death style had nothing to really do with anyones opinions or anything, just our feelings and desires and wanting to actually hear and play that style again. With Avernus, it seems like styles are up for grabs, not saying we'd be new wave or dance pop, but whatever endeavor Avernus partakes in, it's bound to be melancholy and sad...I think doom metal in general is for those with high attention spans, it's in no way party music or people music. Typically, it's listened to in isolation and that's the only time it's really absorbed.
Let me ask you this, as it's a question that I think most people form when they come to examine your band and listen to all the music you have recorded over the years: what keeps Avernus together as a unit, what keeps it going? For a band like yours, which obviously has/had the ambition and desire to gather a wider audience from the very beginning, how do you get through all the years of silence from your audience, the acclaim and "success" (that word can mean so many things, interpret it however you like) that probably would have went to you had you garnered a wider distribution, etc. but instead has gone to other bands? I think most people regard Avernus almost as a...cursed entity, because of all the problems you have had in the past. Do you think there will come a time soon when you, as a band, can put all of this in the past and assume your proper place in the scene? Or are you really satisfied with the way people have embraced your music? I know this seems like a cruel question, but I'm really curious how musicians such as yourselves keep motivated, keep their desire alive...
Rick: Great question! Well, basically, I need this band, I need the outlet, or I may do serious harm to myself. It may sound funny, but it's true. We have been through a lot yes, but what keeps us going is the need to express these feelings we have eating at us from the inside out. I think other doom bands feel this way too, I could be wrong, but perhaps we're just a different breed of cat. I also look at it this way, why quit if we're enjoying what we do? We accepted the fact we'll never make money from this, and who cares anyway? We have had a lot of people give up on us, and that only makes us more apt to continue. I have a lot to say still with Avernus, and until the day I am all happy, and whistling zippity-doo-da out of my ass, I will continue on with this band. Cursed? Yeah, but maybe we're all masochists here! Who knows, this band is like a another limb. I wouldn't feel whole without it. Maybe we could have had more successful ventures in the past, due to the circumstances we've been through, but oh well, life isn't always perfect, and things don't always go your way. You've got to love it.
James: We don't always keep it going, obviously, but it is a part of me and Rick and a big part and I doubt we could ever abandon the band totally. Ambition in this band comes and goes, I won't lie, sometimes we just don't feel like it, but it will always be there nonetheless. Our deep audience has never really been silent, we hear from our real fans quite often, whether we release something or not. I think one reason we never had wider distribution and more acclaim is the fact we've made some bad decisions in our career, but that happens. We signed to a label that had no clue to how to market us and that hurt us big time. When you say "cursed" you hit the nail on the head, we've always joked about the "Avernus Curse", the black cloud over our heads, even joke about the fact our last release was put out by Cursed Productions, ha. I'm satisfied with the response to our music, it's always been good for the most part, and that's a lot of the motivation of this band, that and our own personal desire to perform the music we make.
I'll admit right here: when I listen to your collection CD, 'Where Sleeping Shadows Lie', I am really attracted to the 'Sadness' demo material, which is so old now, and even though I consider some of the other music to be well-constructed, emotionally relevant (which is rare) and interesting from a structural standpoint, I just don't feel it has the same sort of passion, conviction, or hunger that the demo material had - feel free to imagine kicking me if you want for saying that, but it's true from my point of view. It seems that Avernus started experimenting with its sound from the very start, and never really settled on a definite pattern or style - however at any given point in time, reflected by your latest release, it was as if Avernus DID have a strong identity, only that style could be depended upon to change drastically by the time your next material was unleashed. Was this a result of your own approach to music, the fact that Avernus WAS searching for a sound it may never have found, or did you place experimentation and innovation in your own personal aesthetics above finding a definite identity that listeners could latch onto? Is it a result of the different people being involved in the band? Something else?
James: I'm sure most fans probably bought "Where The Sleeping Shadows Lie" for the "Sadness" material on CD. That was initially the reason for the compilation, to release that demo on CD, because I was getting emails up the ass about how people could get it, and it's long since out of print. I think possibly this "lack of passion" you are talking about is just the constant changes within the band, pretty much every release has a differenty line up with different ideas and convictions. I can say honestly that every piece of music I've written for Avernus is unbelievably passionate to me, every note is from my soul and I feel strong about everything I've written. I do not attempt to necessarily experiment with our sound or anything, but any experimentation that does come through comes through very naturally, I don't try to experiment really. I might try something different, but whatever it is I try is from the heart and not because I think we should try something different, it just comes out.
Thinking back, how many songs did the band work on or write together before 'Anastasia'? For a "first" song, I think this shows an amazing musical maturity and compositional power. In the lyric booklet for the new compilation CD, it says that this was the first song written for the demo, I just wanted to clarify this...and also, how long did it take, roughly, to bring together all the material for the four songs on 'Sadness'? How has your approach to songwriting, and what you wanted from your own band, changed since those days? I want to play the devil's advocate and ask an obvious question here, one that I'm sure has been asked before: is 'Anastasia' just a romantic/death-worship cliche, a Poe homage, or is it based on a real woman? Also, in terms of the the music alone, who were the most powerful influences on Avernus in the beginning?
Rick: "Anastasia" was the first song the second incarnation of the band wrote [our previous line-up had the original guitarist, no keys, and a brutally different sound, but it was our 1st year, so..] we spent like two, three months writing that song, why it took so long was that we wanted to make sure it was perfect, and secondly, we never wrote a song before, as our original guitarist wrote everything. In the past our old drummer and I wrote a lot of the material, though everyone had input. These days, it's James, Jeff, and myself, and I figure I'll let those two take care of the music [though I may have ideas, we'll see..] and I'll take care of the vocals/lyrics element. Yes, the lyrics to this song were somewhat Poe-influenced, plus at the time I was doing a lot of hallucinogens, speed, etc. The story is about some lovelorn fellow, who falls in love with a ghost, then to join her in the afterlife, he kills himself, but before dying, he realizes he has been tricked. Basically, this guy has not only been fucked over by women in real life, but in his time of dying, women, ugh......as far as influencing the band, I'll say old Paradise Lost, Cathedral, Lycia, Fields of the Nephilim, and some Sabbath.
James: Lately, musically, I've been listening religiously to Skepticism, Hollenthon, Evoken, 80's new wave music, System Of A Down, Pink Floyd (I want to cover "Dogs"!), and old school death metal... so I am kinda anxious to see what kind of shit will be written when myself, Rick and Jeff get back together to work, hehe...
Were there any kind of specific literary influences for the lyrics on the demo? I ask that because the language is so strong and clear, and was probably very original in the underground scene at the time. Lines like 'and i curse your world, and i curse your sun/for in your ivory world, i am no one' and 'until the night brought life unto the dead, and her name was mine, alone' make me think of Poe, I have to admit, and certain of the French decadent/symbolist writers. Taking them out of context here is confusing, but let me ask you this: in the beginning, were your lyrics a means of expressing your emotions at that point in time, or were they always a method for weaving a world that the musical style that Avernus had could fit comfortably into? Was a special effort made to make the lyrics reflect the music, or vice versa? Which were written first, the lyrics or the music?
Rick: My lyrics are usually written after the music is about done, I let the vibes from the music draw me into whatever emotions may need venting. I always tried to make them work not only with the "feel" of the song, but also never half-assed. I love metaphors, and I find that's my style, though my style has changed a little, but I have changed as a person, so it's no coincidence this would happen. As far as writers, Poe was a big inspiration, but that's about it, most of the lyrics come within myself. My mind is always thinking, and I wish it would stop! hehe, but I find writing to be a good way to vent out the things that want to destroy me, the things within myself, I'm not a negative person, and to retain some form of optimism, I need an outlet, and this is it. I thank you for your nice comments on my lyrics, by the way...
Again, looking at the lyrics, let me ask you this: what exactly can happen in a man's life to make him him write lines like this: 'you are the fool who suffers/you could not understand/the mirror is breathing and its so revealing/the fool was always me', from 'Downpour'? That seems like an enormous realization to be converted into a few lines of lyrics from a song. How do you determine what parts of your life can be documented in the songs, and what parts are private, for yourself? Is that even a distinction you think an artist should make?
Rick: The lyrics to "Downpour" reflect the hell I went through after my Mom passed away. I started having these horrible anxiety attacks, needed surgery that left me bankrupt, my relationships all failed, and I felt like my life was spiraling downward, I got through it, and got better, but looking back, those lyrics were right on. If anything, this trauma made me a stronger person, and "Downpour" is my testament to it. I feel some artists will express themselves in a way that is beneficial for them to not be so much of an open wound, and I feel by just putting it all out there for people to see, judge, and/or condemn, is my own way of telling everyone that I really don't care what people think, and not to be harsh, but I don't cater to other people's feelings when I create, if it shocks them, so be it, I need to express myself, and if someone can't handle it, well, that's too bad. I don't feel anyone should walk on eggshells when creating, your expressing something that needs expressing, and if we hinder our true feelings, we're not true artists in my opinion.
Do you, Rick, ever talk to former members of your band? If so, how do they react when you tell them you are still involved with Avernus? Are they surprised, do they congratulate you on your efforts to persevere with your music?
Rick: I do talk to a couple of the members, and we have had some differences in the past, I said things I shouldn't have out of spite, and vice-versa, but I have no problems with anyone of them anymore. I really don't know what they think about me keeping this band afloat, maybe I'm crazy...who knows.
James: I still see a couple of the old guys here and there. We don't have any deep contact anymore, everyone has moved on to do their own things in their own lives. But I still see our ex-guitarist Erik Kikke every so often and we have a good time together, he is still quite cool. As for the other guys, I don't see them much at all and when I do it's almost awkward as to what to say to them, I have a hard time with that. Erik is still happy that we are going on with Avernus, he always asks how things are going and gives his words of encouragement. I can't say what any of the other ex-members think about us anymore. I honestly don't care either.
Over the past decade, it seems that popular music - especially in this country - has taken on a very dark or aggressive tone, mostly borrowing from the underground genres (where everything breeds years ahead of its appearance in the mainstream), and that certain emotions which may have been pushed out of the popular imagination in pop music have now been accepted as worthy subjects again. I mean, mainly: melancholy, despair, anger, hatred, and a sort of undefined rebelliousness, which of course has exploited by mainstream artists, but which is important for its appearance nonetheless. What do you attribute this to? Do you think it's the result of a different generation now coming into the control of the kind of music that is spread over the radio or through mass marketing, or that it reflects the changing nature of the listening public? Is the world growing darker, and is this a mirror image of that, or do you think it's the result of pop music becoming more 'honest' and expressing things that have always been in circulation anyway?
James: The world is growing darker, yes. I think people today are starting to see the world for what it really might be, starting to see that things aren't always good. However, I can't identify with a band that makes millions of dollars really having ANYTHING to complain about in their music, except for maybe a political stance, but even still, it really doesn't effect them as much as they think while they sit in cushy homes with no worries in the world. I do enjoy a few of the more mainstream "metal" artists these days, I feel some of them are bringing really good ideas and talent into a scene flooded with crap like Limp Bizkit and Korn. Also, pain and anger and hatred sells, and that's evident in today's popular music. I really don't know what to attribute to this trend, could be many things. More or less it's just exploitation by labels knowing that there are kids that are feeling these dark thoughts and capitalizing off them. Also throwing trendy clothes on any depressed kid with a 7-string guitar just seems to be the thing to do. Trends come and go, but real music sticks around for while...
Who is it exactly that brings the folk influences into the band? This goes back all the way to some of the earliest material, the use of folk melodies or a violin - for example, on 'Anastasia' and 'Ashes of Adoration' and then later on 'Godlessness', all the way to the sessions from the late '90s. Is this an element you still feel should be a part of Avernus's sound? The melodies used...what national/traditional background do they come from? It sounds almost like Irish folk music to me...
James: Rick and myself are Irish, so maybe that has something to do with it. As far as the earlier songs, I just believe it had to do with everyones interests in all sorts of folk music, be it Irish, Arabian, Scandinavian, etc...Folk music is beautiful music and most often times, sad sounding, so maybe it's just natural that our melancholy riffs have that sort of folk sound to them. Myself, I like folky sounding music like Loreena McKennit and Dead Can Dance, and even some bluegrass and reggae music, even Ulver's acoustic album "Kveldsfanger" is a great piece of folk music and has influenced me since I've first experienced it. I cant rightly say if there is something direct that brings any sort of folk influence to the band, if anything, it's unconsciously done...
Looking back on the dedication fans of your band have shown over the years, are you ever surprised that Avernus has such a reputation based on the amount of material that's been released through this time? I can't think of many other bands who have released a demo like 'Sadness' and then have gone on to be known in the underground JUST for their first work, even when releasing albums and other material for their fans to contemplate. Avernus almost seems unique in this, as if your followers just won't let go of the band's first offerings...how does that make you feel? It would make me nervous, acknowledging that kind of expectation, sensing all those people waiting on me to release something else along those lines. Few people seem to realize that Avernus has gone on through numerous line-ups and stylistic changes, and that you have left that early form of the band far in the past! On one hand I'm sure it's flattering, but then the expectations for your new material, especially after this new collection CD, must be difficult to ignore...how do you balance this feeling of what your fans want from you vs. what you personally want to create now, in 2002?
James: I'm not surprised, and I disagree that we are known just for our first work, that only applies to people who shrugged us off once we did something that they didn't like. I'm glad that the "Sadness" demo had such an impact on our fans and the underground scene, it had such an impact on me when I first heard it too, but like I said I don't agree that's all our TRUE fans care about. Even though we all dislike "Of The Fallen" you'd be surprised how many people out there love it and never knew "Sadness" existed. The feedback I receive really says that our real fans like pretty much everything we've done. We don't live up to any expectation, except our own. We don't really write music with the notion we HAVE to release it for anyone else but ourselves. So I figure that perfect balance is writing and creating music the way Avernus always has, from the heart, and NOT for other people. Everything Avernus has done is what the band wanted to personally create at the time. We are grateful for our fans and their support, but our real fans know we don't write our music specifically for them, we write it for ourselves and our fans know that the music we create is true to heart.
A music question now: throughout its existence, it seems, Avernus has been growing towards a style that is both flexible and true to its composer's desires, the writers' genuine attempts to communicate and express, but one which also seems to be getting farther and farther away from its origins. The split seems to start right after the 'Sadness' demo, and then grows progressively deeper - by the time we come to the present, based on the last songs on this collection CD, it's almost as if Avernus is now a completely different band. While the lyrics remain true to form, and a definite pattern can be drawn through them all the way back to the first songs, the music itself has metamorphosed into something that is unlike any other band in the genre - in fact I really don't think Avernus can be placed in any genre, which is definitely a good thing. A song like 'For Every Waking Moment', I think, is a perfect example of how far a band can progress in terms of stylistic changes and songwriting ability, and yet...there seems to be a gap between what you might have been going for on that material vs. what actually came out of the studio sessions, a certain unfocused desire to match all of your influences with the direction you wanted to take the band in. Has this been resolved in any way with your newest material? Or is Avernus becoming more and more complex, more difficult to pin down?
James: Avernus is always a completely different band. Lyrically and musically, depending on who is in the band and the state of the band at the time, the feelings, the emotions floating around us, they are different and in turn we are different. I don't really like catagorizing the band myself other than "doom" which I just think sounds cool, ha. No matter what direction we ever decide to take, one thing remains clear, Avernus will always write music from the heart, no matter the current trend, no matter peoples expectations. When I wrote the music for "For Every Waking Moment", I was thinking of where we were at the time, just fresh from "Of The Fallen", and that feeling was embedded in my head, but I was also the new blood in the band at that time and I put my own emotions into the song which I believe started our progression, or regression, back to heavier music. Our last batch of songs from 2001 are even heavier than the "Sadness" material, so who knows where the band can go from here....
All right, that's about it for my questions. Is there anything else you would like to add, or write here for our readers to see? Please finish the interview any way you wish...James: Thanks Umesh for being as patient as you were with me in getting this interview back to you. Everyone should check out our website at www.avernus.org and listen to our music at www.mp3.com/killyourself. Anyone needing a copy of our newest recording "The Isolationist" can write me and we'll work out arrangements. Thanks again Umesh!