Saturday, May 22, 2010

Interview: Eyes of Ligeia

I first heard Eyes of Ligeia years ago in some manner that now completely escapes my memory. Perhaps something of the band's main musician, Toby Chappell, was sent in to Erebus for review? Anyway, I recently got back in touch with Toby and after hearing his latest work, the excellent album called "What The Moon Brings", I decided I should probably interview him. This is what we were able to assemble for your reading pleasure:

Because there is biographical information on your website, scattered through the interviews you have posted there, I'm not going to bother asking you to regurgitate your "official history" here. Instead, let me begin this interview on what I hope is a strong footing by asking you about your own musical convictions and the approach you take to writing music. Why is Eyes of Ligeia's music planned out and composed/constructed in the manner that it displays to us? What do you find satisfying in the style of music that you have evolved with this band? Why "doom metal" - why not some other form of music, some other style of metal? What kinds of emotional states or evocative atmospheres do you try to summon with Eyes of Ligeia? Do you now have a definite methodology of reaching these emotional states with your composing, or is it still a process of hit or miss and searching for the right riffs? Is there a "science of atmosphere" behind your writing - a strict path you take towards composing that you know will give you the results you desire?

I find it most satisfying when I have been able to transcend the perceived limits in this style to create something new and unique, and the construction of the music of Eyes of Ligeia is always directed toward this end. Even though doom metal is, in my opinion, the most appropriate label for what I do, I have always included other elements in the sound (NWOBHM influences, for example, and the non-convential ways in which I devise complimentary guitar parts). I aim to create the type of music that interests me, and what comes out is best labeled doom metal; I set out to write music that I can be happy listening to even years later, which ends up being doom, rather than consciously or deliberately creating doom. The main evocative aim summoned with Eyes of Ligeia is the perception and transcendence of limits; these ideas are expressed as music, but they could just as easily be created via art, philosophy, fiction, etc. Any creative act should necessarily reflect the state of being or state of mind of the person who created it; anything less is not worthy of the title "created", but is better referred to as something along of the lines of "manufactured".

The process of composing still begins as hit or miss, more or less, but quickly tends to get more focused and deliberate as it moves along. Many of the riffs and melodies that make their way into Eyes of Ligeia compositions originally come to me when I'm not even thinking about creating music, and then as I attempt to turn them into music physically played on an instrument they may change as a result of my perception of them as they move from the subjective to the objective. Arranging works in much the same way, and so I normally have played something many times in mind before I ever physically play it on the guitar.

You are obviously inspired by literature - in particular the writings of Poe and Lovecraft (at least these are the signs you display in/on the music) - and Eyes of Ligeia is, I believe, at least in part, a method of creating suitable atmospheres or states of mind in you and your listeners that at least has some kind of resemblance (in your judgment) to the alternative worlds these favorite writers of yours bring about through language. What do you find the most inspiring about these writers - above all Poe and Lovecraft? What makes a person, for example, base an entire album of music on Lovecraft's writings? Is this a sort of homage, or tribute? Can you detail for us the process of converting the initial inspiration sparked by this reading into your music? How do you know a certain segment of music, for example, "fits" the atmosphere or interpreted meanings of a given text? How are they complementary?

The power of Lovecraft comes in his ability to effectively evoke the prerational aspects of our intelligence, whether it comes in our instinctive fear of the unknown or the personification of our primal aspects as the Great Old Ones. The majesty of Poe's writing lies in similar explorations at one level (exploring his own fears of death and water, for example). But, one also gains glimpses into some of the nobler aspects of the Romantic ideological movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as the exaltation of the Feminine Divine (a la "Das Ewige Weibliche zieht uns immer hinan" [English: "The Eternal Feminine draws us forever onwards."], from Goethe's Faust). This impulse, described as runa by the Germanic/Nordic tribes and mysterion by the Greeks, is that which forever inspires us to reach into the Unknown (and overcome the fear of that Unknown in the process). It is a process by which the Unknown becomes Known. Every Eyes of Ligeia release will tend to have lyrical and musical material that reflects what is consuming my studies at the time. The release is then not so much a tribute as just a reflection of various aspects of my current understanding that I am trying to express.

The music is normally written well before the lyrics (and even if lyrics are already written, the pairing of specific lyrics with specific music happens late in the creative process). I'll begin writing and arranging the music without any preconceived notions of what it should be, and as an Idea about what it should be begins to take shape I'll continue by molding the music to evoke that Idea. It is usually at this point that the appropriate lyrics come into the picture.

There are two main things that interest me in your newest work, "What The Moon Brings": the guitar sound or general production, and then the riffing style employed. Let's look at the first in this question...how did you evolve the original guitar sound used on this recording? I like it a lot in that it...is not overwhelmingly distorted, and carries a clean weight of tone that blends with the keyboards well. It was obviously important in playing your music that you didn't hide any notes behind a wall of overdrive...did you happen upon this sound by accident or was it the deliberate result of a search for a sound/tone that reflected certain aesthetic preoccupations? Do you feel/think that this guitar sound creates a certain ambience of its own that assists in the elaboration and construction of Eyes of Ligeia's distinctive atmosphere? Would your music, played with a different guitar sound, have a completely different emotional/imaginative effect on the listener? How important do you think it is for musicians to adequately research the flexibility of evocation and atmosphere that different production methods will give them? Was there an attempt on your part to make all the instrumental sounds match each other on this album...to create an entire production sound out of a "muted" or "quiet" style of playing? Note that this also refers to your vocal approach...

After being particularly inspired by Forgotten Woods' Sjel Av Natten, specifically in how the relatively undistorted guitar sound allowed the music to ring together without crowding all the space it inhabited, I began to search for a sound with a similar effect (not the same sound, mind you, but one with similar properties). I began to experiment with riffs composed of ringing notes and arpeggiated chords rather than purely linear melodic lines, and found that the sound contributed to this inspiration. Generally, the better the sound allows what is essential to the music to come through, the more it feeds creating even better music in the same vein. If the sound were different, I don't think the impact would be as great. I have since tried playing some of the music using different sounds and find that it almost doesn't work in anything but that particular sound. It would be easy to create a new CD with precisely the same production, but I don't think that would serve the creative process sufficiently. I am always moved by the ways in which the production for Skepticism changes subtly from CD to CD; they change around the way they use drums and keyboards, and how sparse or dense the music is, and thereby keep their sound fresh and always the most appropriate sound for the changes in the music. Yet, it always sounds like them. That consistency in sound without corresponding stagnation in creativity is one goal I always keep in mind.

With the keyboards I was trying for a subtle, ethereal sound that permeated the entire CD (similar in approach to the first Skepticism CD). With the vocals, I wanted them to sound as if they were the desperate howlings of demons across a wide chasm from where the rest of the music was being played. Both of these were specifically designed to add to the overall effect of Mystery in the music and sound.

Related to the above question (if you didn't answer it already): how was this new album recorded and/or produced? How long did it take to complete the entire project? There isn't any information on this in the notes to the CD...also, as a tangent to this: can you explain the process that your label, Unsung Heroes, uses to release CDs? Are all the albums on CD-R or is it a mixture of both regular CD and CD-R at this point? How long do bands have to wait before the owner, Mark Vignati, releases their work? For some reason I think there would be a faster turnaround time with a CD-R label. What does this label offer you that other labels can not? Why stay with Unsung Heroes? How did you first get involved with the label and its owner?

Mark is a long-time friend of mine, and our interests in the styles of music released by Unsung Heroes Records (UHR) have more or less grown together. So far, all of the releases on UHR have been CD-R, as that makes it easier and cheaper to deal with the limited quantities most of the releases have been in. He does most of the layouts, but if the band wants to do it themselves (as I always do), that's ok too. The releases generally come out as soon as the music is recorded and mastered, and the layouts are done. If several releases are ready at about the same time, they'll usually be released together. All artists have an open-ended deal with UHR, so there's nothing compelling them to put out a certain number of releases, or sell a minimum number of copies. For now, UHR is the most comfortable place for me to release music, but that doesn't preclude having an Eyes of Ligeia release on another label.

As for the riffing style...I should say "general style" of the guitar playing on this recording, I enjoy it immensely, mostly - I think - because it seems (at least at this point in my assimilation of it) to be original, something that stands out among all the doom or funeral doom metal clones in the underground. To be honest, in the first two songs on this album it reminds me of classic rock...and this might just be something lent from the guitar sound...but it is definitely not your typical "droning simple chord progression" of the funeral doom. The "drone" or atmospheric lull of repetition here is achieved through bright, somewhat baroque melodies contrasted with more conventional Sabbath-flavored, twisting, rock-based riffing...the mixture sounds unique on this recording. Do you think that this "drone effect" of repetition is necessary for doom metal, or for music that claims to be atmospheric? Are there ways of creating ambience and evocative effects within metal music without using repetition as a primary tool?

I don't think the droning effect is strictly necessary, but it is one effective tool among many for creating certain atmospheric impressions. The technique should be chosen according to the desired sound, rather than the determination to use a specific sound driving the rest of the composition. The closest parallel I can think of for some of the riffing style is Forgotten Woods, and they also have a classic rock and progressive rock influence influence in their sound. I certainly did not set out to clone them (or anyone else), but discovering some of their techniques triggered other directions for some of the music I had already composed; this is the essence of influence, as opposed to cloning.

What would you like your listeners to take away from the experience of hearing Eyes of Ligeia? What messages or meanings would you like them to extract from it, or understand? What is Eyes of Ligeia mainly trying to communicate? Has this - the "meaning" in the music - changed over time? Are the band's style and its power to express your emotions and ideas evolving over time to suit your development as a musician and/or human being? Do you think there will be a time in the future when Eyes of Ligeia will no longer seem relevant to you?

The material that became What the Moon Brings actually started out as a new black metal project I was working on that was to be called Thuban (a derivation of the Arabic name for Alpha Draconis, which was the pole star until around 3100 BCE). The name was meant to tie in with the stellar themes of the lyrics I was writing; the songs "Polaris" and "The Thirteenth Atu" were both written and recorded during this time, but as I began to also consider what I wanted to do for the next Eyes of Ligeia release I came to regard the "Thuban" material as more of an evolution in the sound of Eyes of Ligeia. I liken that to Robert Fripp, who originally started out in 1981 creating music for a new band called Discipline, but then suddenly realized he had been writing new King Crimson music instead [and the subsequent album was then called Discipline]. So, I have already been on verge of finding Eyes of Ligeia to be no longer relevant to me, but then discovering that it was more relevant than ever. I create music primarily for my own enjoyment; partially to test the limits of what I can do, and partially to look for new ways to surprise myself. Not finding enough music that grabs me in such an unforgettable way, I seek to create my own instead. I would still create such music even if no one else was interested in hearing it.

As far as what I would like the listener to bring away from the experience of hearing Eyes of Ligeia, I look at music as primarily a way in which I communicate the Essence of myself to the world. If you want to know me, partake of this vessel I have created for storing that which is uniquely me. The music changes as I change, and is as true and pure an expression of myself as I find possible at any given time.

Do you think there is some kind of essential difference/split between musicians who release solo projects or have solo bands (an oxymoron, someone needs to come up with a better term for this phenomenon) and the other musicians who primarily like to engage in collectives or group playing? Is there some form of basic dissimilarity at work between the two "types" of musicians? Are they different "by nature"? Do you think it's easier for a musician to create his own music and create something he will be personally satisfied with in a band, or on his own as a solo artist? Do you think a lot of solo artists reach this stage of working because of a frustration with other artists? Do you think art, or music, is fundamentally a solo pursuit - something that should express the individual's own desires and emotions, not the will of a group?

The necessity of group versus individual effort varies with what is being expressed. In Eyes of Ligeia, I am trying to create a unique expression that incorporates as many facets of myself as possible; but I can also function in a group setting where the goal is different: to create something that is greater than the individuals participating in it. This is why I play everything myself on my CDs; I am primarily a guitarist, but feel like I can play drums and produce vocals that are sufficient in getting the essence of what I am trying to say across. Were I to incorporate someone else's playing, I would only do so if I were truly integrating their creative input as well, but then it would not be Eyes of Ligeia since Eyes of Ligeia is by my own definition solely an individual creation. I certainly think that musicians can function in both ways (effective at both individual and group projects). In fact, I do exactly this with two other black metal bands I participate in (one on guitar/vocals, and the other on drums). Each project I am involved in has its own mode of expression, suited to the individual(s) involved. I started working on my own because I felt a strong need to learn my way through all aspects of creating a work of music, from writing and arranging, to recording and mastering. Other than a few hints here and there from Mark from UHR on how to use the various software, I learned what I know about all these aspects of creation through trial and error (don't we all? although some seem not as willing to risk trial or error as others...)

What would you say to those who opined that doom metal is strictly limited in terms of the emotions and evocative effects it can employ - that it so rigidly defined and confined to the "negative" or melancholy sphere of life that is does not allow an artist the compositional depth and breadth that he/she may need for musical development? Do you find the strictures of the genre/style to be too restrictive? Do you think doom is the most "traditional" out of all the different genres of metal musical form and that - correspondingly - it seems to attract a definite type of personality (in its fans and main musicians) which is drawn towards tradition, certainty, obviousness? Do you think that the basic core aesthetics of doom metal (whatever those might be at the moment) allow for the same level of evolution and progression as, say, the styles of black or death metal? Why do you think doom never reached the same type of popularity that the other genres of metal reached?

Doom metal to me is more about dynamics, whether in the contrast between loud/quiet, slow/slower, or somber/uplifting. To stay in one mode (pick one half of any of those three pairs) leads to monotony. This gets very tricky when using lots of repetition, because there is a fine line between atmospheric and boring, and the exact location of that line varies from listener to listener. There are many art forms that can evoke happiness, but to me nothing evokes sadness like music. Creating or listening to music that is somber can be a cathartic experience, and I consider it absolutely not true that one must be depressed or morose to create doom metal; in fact, expressing actual or potential sadness in a creative art is one effective way to prevent it from consuming one's life. I think doom metal has a different aesthetic appeal than many other forms of metal, and seems to concentrate more on the music than on the "look" or other non-musical activities, and those non-musical aspects seem to be what drives the mass popularity of most other genres. I don't think doom has any less potential for evolution and progression, since there is quite a lot to be explored in terms of what are effective outside elements to add to it to facilitate generating the proper mood or atmosphere. Compare, for example, Hlidolf to Dolorian to Black Sabbath; three completely different approaches, yet all are undeniably effective doom metal. There is always room for outside influences that add to without dishonoring the core aspects that make music doom.

You thank Dr. Michael Aquino in the notes on "What The Moon Brings". Please explain to the uninitiated who this is and how he has been an influence on your thinking - specifically in how that influence on your beliefs or ideas may have been instrumental in the creation of Eye of Ligeia's music. What tenets of Setianism do you find to be the most attractive, and why? What can this philosophy offer to the readers of this interview?

Dr. Aquino is one of the founders of the Temple of Set, the leading school of the Left Hand Path in the West. His influence on my thinking and philosophical/religious explorations has been primarily in my participation in the Initiatory environment he among others had a role in creating. The most effective way that Setian thought is expressed through Eyes of Ligeia is in the emphasis on continual evolution; not change for its own sake, but change toward specifically remanifesting it as more than the sum of its previous parts. This mechanism applied to the Self is precisely what is constitutes Initiation, and creative expression is but one of many ways that Initiation within can be reflected in the world without.

Well, that's all the questions I have for now...feel free to add any extra information you have here, and let us know what you are planning for the future. What's next for Eyes of Ligeia, and you as a musician? Thanks for your support (I appreciate it!) and for answering this short interview...

The biggest thing for Eyes of Ligeia in the near future is to re-record a selection of songs from the previous, out-of-print releases, updating their production and arrangements to the standards I can now achieve. Thanks of course for this opportunity, and for the excellent and thought-provoking questions.