New Brunswick innovative noise/grind/sludge trio Anthesis are about to release their latest effort, dubbed The Age of Self, on June 9. The new record follows several EPs, as well as splits with the likes of The Great Sabatini and Greber, but is the band’s first full-length in seven years, since 2010’s Surface and the Sky. Recorded, mixed and mastered throughout 2016 by guitarist/vocalist Scott Miller, The Age of Self encompasses the band’s most focused and powerful material to date.
The 11-track album combines elements of ferocious grind, harsh noise rock and doom-ridden sludge into a cohesive sound, layered with dissonant tones and a remarkably bleak atmosphere. In this recent interview with Svbterranean, Miller took the time to discuss The Age of Self, the reasons behind the long gap between the two full-lengths and the writing and recording process for the new album. He also talks about Anthesis’ unique sound and how they’ve progressed over the years, as well as the DIY methods behind recording/releasing music, his solo endeavour Clouds Become Oceans and much more.
The Age of Self is the first Anthesis full-length in seven years! How does it feel to finally get this out?
Scott Miller: Wow. It seems so crazy to think about that. It doesn’t feel like that long, but at the same time feels like an eternity since we did our first album. We’ve had so many changes in our personal lives and have matured so much musically that it almost feels like a new band. Needless to say, I think we needed to get this album out. It’s a great relief at this point.
I know there have been other releases, with EPs and splits over the years, but why such a long gap between full-lengths?
A big factor there is how busy our personal lives have been. Andrew [Martin, drums] moved away for school for two years and then ended up being away for two more years working. He’d only be home once or twice a month for a couple days at a time during those four years. Scott [Lilly, bass/vocals] has been doing school and working full-time and I’ve been working full-time the entire time. All three of us got married in that time and Scott also has a little girl now. So it’s been busy! It was too hard to focus on a full-length album and giving it the time and attention that it needed, so we decided to fill the time with shorter releases.
How are you feeling about how The Age of Self turned out?
I’m super pumped about it. It’s by far our strongest group of songs and most natural sounding recording. I really feel that it represents us authentically and it feels current to where we are right now. A lot of the time, by the time you write, record, and get an album out, those songs feel old and dated. I don’t feel that way with this album, and I think it’s the first time that I haven’t. I think a big part of that is that we’ve only ever played about half of the album live, where as with other releases we’d been playing the songs live for years before the recordings were out.
What was the writing and recording process like for this album?
We’ve got our writing process pretty much figured out at this point. I’ll write a few riffs that go together, possibly a full song, and record a quick demo of it. I’ll send it to the guys so they’re a bit familiar with it and then we’ll work on it in the jam room. Sometimes songs will stay exactly how I demoed them and sometimes we’ll completely mangle them into something else if that’s what they need. Sometimes a song will be 100 percent written together in the jam room as well. The track “Decay/Disgust” was written like that. We really worked on song structures and not forcing anything that didn’t feel natural on this album. We were a little more strict with ditching weak riffs or ideas this time around, which I think is a major factor in it ending up stronger all around.
I recorded the album at Ancient Temple Recordings. I’ve recorded everything we’ve ever done, so we’re very familiar and comfortable with the process at this point. We did the drums here and there over about a month. This gave us time to experiment with different ideas for certain parts and really nail stuff down. There are also a couple parts on the album that are very loose and free, so we had time to improvise a bit to see what would happen. The beginning and ending of “Reunion” are good examples of this. The guitar and bass tracks were laid down after that and were 99 percent figured out ahead of time. We don’t do too much layering and harmonizing because we keep it pretty accurate to what we’ll play live. We had a lot of fun with the vocals though and they’re by far my favourite vocals of any of our recordings. We did one or two songs max per vocal session, as to not blow our throats out. I can hear a real sincerity in these vocals that I don’t think we captured as well on previous releases. Andrew did vocals on a few tracks as well, which he hadn’t since he did one scream on our very first full band demo in 2006.
I also mixed and mastered the album at ATR, so I’ve listened to this thing a disgusting amount of times. The entire process is so long and loud that my brain ends up turning to mush at points, so we took lots of breaks during all of this and spread it throughout spring to fall 2016.
This album feels very focused and cohesive. How do you feel this release compares to your previous material?
It’s definitely our most focused and cohesive effort. Our first full-length felt like playing catch-up with ourselves. This album feels current and fresh compared to every other release we’ve done. There’s no doubt to me that this is our best material. The writing, recording, lyrically, the artwork, everything. There are minor things that I’d change, or adjust, but I don’t think that feeling ever goes away with this art form.
Your previous EP, Compressed Meat, is super weird! It’s hard to believe it was recorded during the same sessions as The Age of Self. Why are they so different?
Haha, I guess it’s weird. That idea started during drum tracking as a way to take a little break from the repetition of tracking the LP songs. I’d hit record and Andrew would improvise drums and vocals on the spot. Whatever he said became the song title, or sometimes we’d come up with a song title first and those would be the only lyrics he could use. We’ve never laughed so hard as we did while tracking those songs. I even left some of the laughing at the end of a couple of the tracks. To stick to the idea of improvisation, I listened to the drum tracks a few times and then improvised guitar over them. I then showed them to Scott and he did his bass tracks. Everything there is the first take. The only thing we had to do after was redo the vocal tracks so that you could hear them. Because we didn’t have a vocal mic set up during drum tracking, the original vocals were only coming through the drum mics and couldn’t be heard over the other instruments. Andrew did 99 percent of the vocals for it, so that was awesome. We also did the Nirvana Vol. 2 EP during this same session. It ended up being 46 songs total during the recording of The Age of Self.
Anthesis’ sound combines many different styles, from grind and noise to doom and sludge. How do you describe the band’s sound?
I actually have a really hard time describing it. Lately I’ve been just sticking to saying it’s “heavy.” We do touch on a lot of genres but at the same time we don’t really strictly fit into any of them. It’s the same when we play shows. We can play with death metal bands or punk bands, but we usually don’t fit in either way. I don’t see that as a bad thing, it’s just the way it’s always been. At least we don’t get lumped into a certain category. Our Facebook page says that we play “garbage,” so we’ll go with that.
How do you feel the band’s sound progressed over the years?
I just listened back to tracks off each of our releases to really dig into this question. The main thing I’ve found is the songwriting has improved majorly. I know we’ve all learned to play what the song needs and to avoid being self-indulgent. Our early material was very busy and a bit complicated, sometimes just for the sake of it. We’ve had to let it sink in that it’s okay for something to be simple and easy if that’s what feels right. I hear more elements of noise rock, hardcore and sludge in our newer stuff, which has created some of these simpler parts. That sort of thing has been sneaking into our songs since we did the first Nirvana covers EP and the splits with The Great Sabatini and Greber. Our music has always been noisy and dissonant with odd time signatures all over the place, but I think we’ve finally found a balance in all of it and made it flow more naturally.
What are your influences, musical or otherwise?
We’re influenced by so much different stuff. I think that’s why our music ends up touching on such a wide variety of things. I can’t see us ever just being a grind band or a sludge band. It’s the dynamics of both that create what we do. As for specific influences, Deftones have always been a strong influence, which may seem odd. I remember learning to play their first couple albums on guitar when I was 14 or 15 and there’s stuff that I picked up from those that I still use now. As for heavier stuff, I’ve always been attracted to bands that are doing their own thing and sit on the edge of what’s acceptable within a genre. Bands like Gorguts, Cephalic Carnage, Fuck the Facts, Boris, Malignancy, Harvey Milk, Krallice, Big Business, etc. Bands like that, who push the limits of genres, really make me want to push myself creatively. I’m also very influenced by bands like Earth and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but that stuff doesn’t really have much of an effect on Anthesis tunes at all.
Lyrically, is there a specific theme behind The Age of Self? What’s the meaning of the title?
All three of us contributed to lyrics on the album. That’s a first for us. Scott wrote for two songs, Andrew wrote for one and contributed parts to a couple others, and I wrote for the other eight. I was writing lyrics for a different project that was one long piece of music, but it didn’t pan out. So most of my lyrics were originally together as one piece and I split them all up for different songs for The Age of Self. I was reading the book Man’s Search for Himself by Rollo May, and the lyrics are very heavily influenced by that. It’s pretty heavy stuff, so I’d only read it in small sections at a time to let it soak in. That’s where the ideas of The Age of Anxiety and The Age of Emptiness are from as well, which are the two parts that the album is split into. The book came out in 1953 and it’s insanely relevant to how people live and feel today. I definitely recommend reading it. I wish I would have been a little more strict lyrically overall though, because I think a couple songs don’t seem to fit in with the others as well as they could. Not that it’s a concept album at all. That was never the intention.
How does the cover art tie in with the themes?
The cover art wasn’t specifically meant to be attached to the lyrics. It ended up working together perfectly though. We had an idea of what we wanted for photos for the cover and the ones we got from Alana Carson were perfect. There are obviously strong elements of abandonment and destruction there. I look at the lyrics and art in a positive way though. Personally, I see it as leaving what’s destructive behind and moving on. Whether it’s a terrible living situation or just with personal things and trying to improve yourself and move past internal things. I guess that’s how the artwork would tie into the lyrics.
Where does lyrical inspiration come from for you?
I find a lot of lyrics in heavy music tends to deal with pretty heavy subject matter. The three of us have pretty undramatic, great lives, so there’s not much to complain about. I’ll generally get inspiration from a book I read, like the majority of this album, or what people around me are going through, or sometimes I find just writing without something specific in mind works. Weird things will come out that sometimes have no meaning at the time but will take meaning later on. I enjoy vague, abstract lyrics as well. It’s always interesting what people will get out of stuff like that, when they can be interpreted in so many different ways. The Age of Self probably has my most thought out and well-organized lyrics. I really felt that difference while tracking vocals.
Your solo endeavour, Clouds Become Oceans, is quite different from Anthesis. How did that project come about? How does it compare to Anthesis as a creative outlet for you?
Writing for Clouds Become Oceans is the total opposite mindset as for Anthesis. It started off as experimenting with different effects and recording techniques on my own in 2010 and slowly grew into more and more experimentation. There’s never been a plan of playing it live, so that gives me a lot freedom with layering tons of instrumentation and ideas that I don’t get a chance to express with Anthesis. It’s instrumental, slow, and has tons of melodies, so it’s pretty much the opposite of Anthesis. Doing both lets me really focus on each for what they are and I can really feel a balance in myself musically since starting the CBO project. I played almost everything on the album myself as well, which was a great release of ideas. Andrew and Scott also played on a track each, Joe Egan of Egan Guitars played on one and my buddy Randy Robinson played a guitar solo on one. It was great to involve some different people and really break out of the Anthesis bubble. I’ve already got a list of people to potentially be involved in the next album. I actually think Anthesis will be stronger because of starting up CBO.
As well as having two musical projects, you’re a recording engineer and also run Ancient Temple Recordings. How do you have time for everything? Is this completely DIY method something that’s important for you, or is it more out of necessity?
The reason that there’s so much going on right now is that I’ve gotten to a point in life where I’m doing things instead of just thinking about doing them. I think reading Man’s Search For Himself, that I mentioned earlier, kind of pushed me to start acting on ideas more than just thinking about them and putting them off or not having the confidence to start doing something just because I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. I’ve been recording since high school and it was definitely out of necessity then. None of us had money to go to a studio, especially repeatedly. So between saving some cash, help from parents and some pirated recording software, that’s how I started recording. I’ve never gone to school for it, so everything I’ve learned has been from years of trial and error. I’m finally to a point where I don’t cringe while listening to an album that I just worked on. Between the new Anthesis and CBO albums, I’m very happy with how far things have come. As for Ancient Temple Recordings, I use that name for my studio work as well as a record label that my friend Kris Hopper and I run. Our first release was the Greber/Anthesis split seven-inch last year and there are a few releases planned for this year, including The Age of Self and the Clouds Become Oceans debut, Paths, that came out in April. I’ve also started two new bands who are both in the writing and planning stages, so things are definitely busy! As for keeping it DIY, it’s partially important and partially necessity. It’s necessity because we’d be broke if we had to pay for studio time every time we recorded. And just the ease of demoing and recording that we have now would be hard to replace. It’s also important to me to be involved in as much of this as I can be. I can’t imagine just writing music and having nothing else to do with an album. Every project means so much to me and I think it would kill me to leave it all in someone else’s hands. I really think we’ve just found a comfortable formula for what we’re doing and it seems to be working. That’s not saying that we’ll never go to someone else for studio work. Nothing is set in stone.
What’s coming up next for Anthesis and your other endeavours?
Writing is never ending for me. I’m already writing for two separate new Anthesis releases. Both of which will be quite different for us. Their lengths will all depend on how the writing goes. I’d like to think that they could each be full-length albums, but I’ll have to see where it takes me. EPs are cool too because we can get them out faster, so I’d be okay with them ending up that way as well. As for Clouds Become Oceans, I just released a new EP called Birds on May 27, which was National Drone Day. I experimented with some new stuff on there, including some heavy sound manipulation and all three tracks feature field recordings of birds I did all around my house. For Ancient Temple Recordings, I’m currently working on a few recording projects for different bands. The label side of ATR will also be involved in a couple vinyl releases this year if all goes as planned. And somehow I still work full-time and hang out with my wife. After talking about all of this, I’m not sure how I do it.
Thanks for the interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to add that Cameron at Hibernation Release and Shannon at Perfect World Productions deserve huge shout outs for their work on this Anthesis album. Cameron put together a beautiful package for the cassette release and Shannon has put our noisy tunes in all the right people’s hands. It’s amazing to have support like this from people who were total strangers, and who I’m now great friends with. Meeting Cameron and yourself this year at MDF was great too!
Thanks so much for the interview, Denise!