Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lifetime of Gray Skies Part 6: Into the Outer Dark

Too far I want
Too much I fell
From grace disappear
I wish I knew why it
Felt like ice picks

"Lucky Sky Diamond"
The Outer Dark

    After eight years and three full lengths, the members of Anodyne went their separate ways after they failed to find an audience for their idiosyncratic take on hardcore and noise rock. Nearly every record label the band worked with has since gone out of business, leaving the bulk of the band's material out of print and minimizing their shot at posthumous underground glory.
    "Anodyne was an obscure band," guitarist and vocalist Mike Hill said. There was only really a few people who remember the band. We weren't like Coalesce who were selling out huge places and selling huge records. Re-releasing things by them makes sense. Us, you'd get my mom and two friends, maybe. I wouldn't even sell a copy to my mom. I'd give it to her."
    But Anodyne's legacy lives as its DNA filtered down through the various musicians' new projects. Anodyne alumni have taken stabs at grindcore, shoegaze, sludge, indie rock and electronic music in the years since they crawled out from under a Lifetime of Gray Skies.


    Hill has been the most prolific since Anodyne was retired. In 2006 he released short albums from two separate projects. Sino Basila was a one-off band formed with a former roommate that released a two-track album of instrumental Melvins-style sludge on Hill's Black Box record label.
    "At the time we were doing it, we had the ambition to do more. Other stuff came in focus that took up more of our time," Hill said. "I was doing that at the same time as or before I was doing Versoma with Jamie Getz."
    Also that year, Versoma released its sole EP, Life During Wartime. The album united two of noisy hardcore's finest guitarists--Hill and Lickgoldensky's Getz--but rather than recreate their past bands' sound, Versoma found them indulging in more melodic shoegaze music. At that point in their lives, noise rock was not even an option, Getz said.
    "We both just beat our collective heads off of van roofs and smoke-filled shit holes for six to eight years in abrasive, angular guitar bands," he said. "The idea of doing the same thing, I don't think really crossed either of our minds."
    Like many of his projects, Hill brought in trusted friends to fill out Versoma. Coliseum's Ryan Patterson, who had done the art for Anodyne's last two releases also designed the cover for Life During Wartime (as well as Tombs' first EP). Anodyne drummer Joel Stallings pitched in as the drum tech during the recording session.
    Stallings was already devoted to Defeatist fulltime, but Hill said he provided valuable technical assistance to drummer Greg Drudy during the Versoma recording session.
    "Similar to Dave Witte, [Stallings] is one of those guys who's a scientist when it comes to tuning drums," Hill said. "I felt like getting him involved as a tech for that record was a positive thing. Not every drummer is so adept at that kind of thing."
    Versoma was short-lived and plagued by a constantly revolving rhythm section and a lack of unified musical goals, Hill said.
    "We went through a bunch of different lineups," he said. "That band was ill-fated because there wasn't any real clear focus. Jamie and I had ideas and sometimes they worked together and sometimes they didn't."
    Friendship may have prevented Versoma from reaching its potential because nobody wanted to take charge of the band, Getz said.
    "I think a big problem with the Versoma project was neither of us wanted to step on each other's toes, so what you had was not a stalemate but 90 percent finished ideas because no one wanted to be the band dictator and demand their final vision be brought out in that last 10 percent," he said. "I am under the distinct feeling every band needs an iron fist to get things done."
    Though Versoma would not last more than one EP, the experience provided Hill with the impetus to form his most acclaimed band to date, Tombs. Many of the songs from Tombs' first EP were leftover Versoma tracks.
    "That also allowed me to experience myself playing that kind of music and take that into Tombs," he said. "I was able to try out some ideas in that band I wasn't able to execute in Anodyne."

Devil's Play

    Guitarist and vocalist Ayal Naor  had always been tinkering away at 27 with his partner and former Dirt Merchants chanteuse Maria Christopher throughout his time with Anodyne.
    "I like heavy music, I like light music, other styles of music," Naor said. "For me, 27 was the non-heavy stuff. Anodyne was to be as heavy and brutal as possible."
    When Naor needed a drummer, he turned to Anodyne bandmate Thos Niles. Naor had put out Niles' previous band La Gritona's early efforts through his Reproductive Records. Additionally, La Gritona used to share a practice space with Dirt Merchants, making it a natural fit, Niles said.
    "Ayal called me up and said that the two of them had been writing songs at home for fun and would I want to help them out by playing drums on some of them," Niles said. "It was a lot of fun because I’d never done anything that subtle before and we were all friends. 27 wasn’t really going to be a band, more like a project but became a band anyway."
    Unlike Anodyne, with its emphasis on aggression, 27 is more plaintive and contemplative, making the most of quiet, sparse movements.
    "We'd have competitions to try to play behind each other, playing behind the beat, quieter and more sparse and the opposite extreme," Naor said. "It was almost like a game. [Niles] would try to hit the note as late as possible, and I'd try to play just after him."
    Niles played drums on 27's debut Songs from the Edge of a Wing and contributed to its follow up Animal Life, but once again work and family commitments prevented him from giving himself over to a band full time. So he ceded his spot to drummers willing and able to make a full time go of the band.
    "We used to practice on weekends, but by that time, maybe around 1999, I had gotten involved with internet startups and was working 60 to 80 hours a week, plus I had gotten married and bought a house that I was fixing up, so as 27 was becoming more of a real band my availability was shrinking," Nile said. "Our interests were no longer aligned so I backed off and they got another guy who was interested in touring."
    Nile still contributes to 27 even though sometimes he's unaware that his participation made it on to a record.
    "It’s really easy for us to put in a little bit of effort and bang out a recording," he said. "Doing that kind of discreet, self contained project is much more my speed. It’s great because every once in a while Ayal will give me a bunch of records that I didn’t know I was on."
    Anodyne and Isis were always close when they were young bands coming up in Boston and frequently went on the road together. When Isis recorded their signature album Oceanic, they asked  Naor and Christopher to contribute to the songs "The Beginning and the End," "Weight" and "Carry." Christopher's haunting vocals would define "Weight," one of Oceanic's standout tracks.
    "On the art aesthetic, Aaron Turner and I resonated with each other pretty well," Naor said. "We all just felt some alignment in our ideals and our work ethic and our artistic aesthetic. We just became friends and bonded in that way. When they were doing the Oceanic record, I think they just wanted Maria on it, but I think they thought I'd be upset if they only asked her. It was a super honor."
    "The results were way beyond our expectations," Isis drummer Aaron Harris said. "I don't think that record would have been what it was without their contributions. We continued to tour with 27 all over the world. We took them everywhere we went as long as they'd come."
    Naor also contributed a reinterpretation of Oceanic's "False Light" to a series of remix records Isis put together for Robotic Empire shortly after the album's release. He was featured alongside artists as diverse as Mike Patton, Justin Broadrick, DJ Speedranch and James Plotkin.
    "When they did the remixes, the thing I thought was interesting was taking Maria's vocals from 'Carry' and splicing them on to 'False Light,'" Naor said. "I love that song, 'False Light.' It's such a great song."


    Stallings and bassist Joshua Scott didn't stay idle long either. In 2005 the rhythm section put their simpatico to use in grindcore trio Defeatist with former Kalibas guitarist Aaron Nichols. Nichols had shared demos for a grind project he had started with Erik Burke with Scott and Stallings when they were still playing with Anodyne, which piqued their interest.
    "A few months  later, they called me seemingly out of the blue to see if I wanted to do a grind project as a side band for them," Nichols said. "Anodyne was still doing a lot of out of town shows and I was going to school full time so Defeatist was never really meant to be a full time thing, but it became everyone's sort of default band after Anodyne split a year or so later."
    "Grindcore was always an interest to the three of us in Anodyne, as well as death metal," Stallings said. "Josh and I were heading more in this direction in the final days of Anodyne. I guess this was an aspect of the clashing writing approaches. Mike was definitely still into incorporating grindcore elements, but it seemed our main writing agendas were evolving differently. I guess it’s obvious from the bands we formed after."
    Defeatist was a grisly throwback to grindcore's grimy afterbirth, but its inception was more like an awkward high school prom than From Enslavement to Obliteration.
    "I remember calling [Nichols] from my kitchen, feeling totally awkward like I was asking Penny Frost out in fucking 7th grade," Scott said. "I asked him if he wanted to do a grindcore band with me and Joel. He said 'sure,' and we went from there. The shit Joel and I had written was more like what Radiation Blackbody ended up being, stuttering, angular, mathy shit. Aaron’s response was, 'How is that even grindcore?' and then he just started shitting out beautiful grindcore riffs. And that was Defeatist."
    Though Defeatist never toured as extensively as Anodyne, Stallings and Scott brought the same singular focus and dedication to their new project when it came time to write and rehearse. Their enthusiasm inspired Nichols as well.
    "I was a big fan of Anodyne, so playing with those dudes was a no brainer. Joel is one of my favorite drummers ever. For as different as we all were, we had a lot of similar music interests. We bought a lot of the same records and went to a lot of shows together," Nichols said. "The biggest thing they brought to the table was a very serious work ethic when it came to writing and rehearsing. Defeatist didn't play very many shows and never really toured, but we practiced at least three nights a week in a smelly shitbox without fail regardless of whether or not we had shows or recording coming up. Those dudes were in it for the music. No ego trips, no drama. If you've ever been in a band, you know how rare that is."


    Dave Witte was originally announced as Versoma's drummer, but his busy schedule got in the way. Hill managed to reunite with Witte, who had played on Anodyne's Red Was Her Favorite Color EP, for 2008 hardcore project King Generator, which was formed with Jamie Thompson of Shank. Playing traditional hardcore took Hill out of his comfort zone, and not just because he made the jump to bass.
    "I like certain types of hardcore, Circle Jerks, stuff like that. I love bands like Tragedy and His Hero is Gone, Prank Records, but I'm not like that guy. I'm not the guy who's a Cro-Mags fan or something," he said. "For me it was like a first to play in a band that sounded like that."
    The project also saw Hill, who was originally brought in as frontman, take his first crack at playing bass. Javier Villegas from Born Against was supposed to record bass but scheduling conflicts stalled the project.
    "It sat for a month or so trying to line up Javier and Dave just said, 'Fuck it, play some bass on it.'" Hill said.
    While new King Generator material has been discussed, at least in the abstract, the trio's busy schedules have stood in the way so far, Hill said.
    "There's talk about doing more stuff, but Dave's always on tour and Jamie lives in the UK and I'm fairly busy. I don't write any of the material. I just write the lyrics. I'm on call," he said.


    Anodyne's rhythm sections have managed to stick together long after the band's demise. The bonds forged in that band have carried over to new projects even if members jump genres.
    In addition to Defeatist, Scott and Stallings also maintained their rhythmic chemistry in the twitchy, mathy  bass and drums hardcore band Radiation Blackbody.
    "We’ve been doing it for several years now," Scott said. "I think it grew directly out of the improv practice-filler shit we used to do in Anodyne. Now we are better prepared and more structured. We have one LP out now, a second one shortly." 
    Radiation Blackbody released their first, self-titled record in 2010 and Scott and Stallings have been readying material for a second.
    "We seem to have a new record written, so we’ll be recording that this year," Stallings said. "I also play in another instrumental project, Praetura. The latest thing I’ve done is a recording project only, Grueling Sentence. It’s mostly grindcore, with some experimental moments."

    Niles and original Anodyne bassist Mike Davis have also stuck together over the last decade in noise rock band Blacktail with Doomriders and Cast Iron Hike guitarist Chris Pupecki. The band hopes to record new material later this year.
    Davis attributes his time in Andoyne to building the skills he needs for Blacktail, which also hearkens back to the pure noise of his time in Luca Brasi.
    "Because of my experience with Mike I became a much better musician technically," he said. "But in Luca Brasi we had this guy Dave Dunbar who had  a lot of effects and is just a master of noise and he's honed his skills and he did that in Blacktail."


    Though Tombs' first EP drew heavily on leftover Versoma material, Hill increasingly brought more black metal influences into play on Winter Hours and Path of Totality.
    "It wasn't really a conscious sort of effort. I feel like I'm more comfortable operating in an extreme sort of thing," Hill said. "My natural tendencies are to go to a more aggressive style. Even the split we did with Planks was more half and half aggressive metal and more shoegazy."
    Like Stallings with Anodyne, Hill found his perfect match in former ASRA drummer Andrew Hernandez. Hill had championed ASRA, releasing their album The Way of All Flesh through his Black Box label. When that band broke up, Hill quickly brought Hernandez into the Tombs fold.
    "Having the resources like Andrew to play that kind of  style opened us up to writing material that could be played like that," Hill said. "I don't think we had the resources early on to play like that in Tombs. It was similar to when Joel joined Anodyne. We didn't have any blastbeats until he joined."
    The relationships Hill had forged with Anodyne also earned Tombs its deal with Relapse Records. Former Escape Artist co-owner Gordon Conrad also worked at Relapse and he brought the band to the label after receiving their demo from Level Plane owner and Versoma drummer Greg Drudy.
    "We'd done a demo," Hill said. "The demo wasn't really meant to secure any major deal with anyone. We had new songs and we had this tour booked with ASRA and we needed something to sell on the road. Greg got a hold of it and passed it on to Gordon. It was one of those organic things."


    When he's not busy composing blackgaze masterpieces, Hill, under the name Vasilek, is also dabbling in sludgy electronic music that draws heavily from '80s darkwave acts like Bauhaus, My Bloody Valentine and Joy Division.
    "Vasilek is more of my exploration of that without the trappings of the band. I can do that more without having loud guitars and stuff involved," Hill said. "... Intellectually, I'm trying to push Vasilek into more of  Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Swans, Angels of Light, that kind of thing. I think maybe the next thing I'm going to do vocals on it."
    The solo project lets Hill experiment with a familiar sonic palette but take his songs in a new direction and explore different moods. Though it was never intended to be a solo venture, Vasilek seems to work best as his private fiefdom.
    "I write that stuff on the spur of the moment," Hill said. "It's always midnight, I got an idea, I go into my studio room and knock it out. I can't really call people at one o'clock in the morning and say put some bass on it. Maybe the intent is to bring other people, but once I'm done I don't think I really need it."
    Vasilek pulls from many of the same musical strains as Tombs, but Hill said the solo project lets him take those influences to new vistas. Psycheclic Furs, Sisters of Mercy and Fields of the Nephilim are "huge influences even on what Tombs does, but I'm probably going to go even further into that bat cave with that."

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