Weaving together elements of noise, free composition, classical, doom metal and a myriad of other influences, Ehnahre create unorthodox compositions that defy categorization. Their music sees the boundaries set forth by the genres that influence them and insist on pushing beyond them, resulting in complete avant-garde bliss. As is the case with their most recent full-length effort, The Marrow, which delivers something dark, sinister and unlike what most of extreme music has to offer.
Svbterranean recently caught up with Ehnahre’s founder and bandleader, Ryan McGuire, to discuss the new album, the avant-garde, poetry and more.
Could you please introduce yourself and your role in Ehnahre?
My name is Ryan McGuire, I am the founder and bandleader of Ehnahre, and I play bass guitar, double bass, vocalize and compose most of the music.
Ehnahre’s music is highly unique and experimental, drawing upon numerous influences and features very unorthodox songwriting. How does the band approach writing music of this caliber?
I would start by pointing out what is perhaps already obvious- we don’t write riffs. Each time we compose something, it starts with a conceptual idea, to frame the piece and give it an identity. That usually means starting with the title and lyrics, and then creating the arc of the song, the overall structure. Once that foundation has been laid, it’s just a matter of cultivating the musical themes and really fleshing things out. We’ll create a few phrases and things that we use as source material for variation. And even though it might not sound like it, I definitely tend to be economical with the amount of material we use in each song. For example, “The Crow Speaks”, which is over 18 minutes long, really only has 3 musical themes in it. All the rest of the material is born out of just those 3 ideas, and developed further or reframed in some other way. Another example would be Old Earth. There are only 3 musical themes on that entire record. But we’ll take one of those themes, and twist it and reimagine it, and it becomes a 40 minute album.
What do you feel the unconventional influences and techniques Ehnahre utilizes, such as free improv, classical and chamber, bring to the world of “metal”.
I would like to think it brings another perspective and a different approach to the music. You don’t want the genre to become stagnant, you want things to continue to grow and evolve. And I think these sorts of devices and influences can be quite useful in helping to expand your boundaries. But these techniques and stylistic elements are really just tools to help give life to whatever musical vision you have. And while they’re largely under utilized in metal, I definitely think they can have a place.
The band’s music is often mentioned in the same breath as “avant-garde”. How do you personally view this term and how do you feel it relates to Ehnahre’s music?
I actually like the term very much, in the sense that it means “forefront” or “forward thinking”, in spite of the fact that it might conjure up images of detestable knobs with handlebar moustaches reading alone in a barroom. But I would like to think that we are trying to stretch the boundaries of the genre, so I think the term is appropriate.
What was your first exposure to avant-garde or experimental music and how you feel those artists/releases played a role in the development of your songwriting?
I had been exposed to a little bit of “out” music pretty early on. In high school some friends and teachers had shown me the music of John Zorn and Glenn Branca, stuff like that. But I really didn’t understand or like any of it until I started studying composition in college. I was introduced to composers like Ligeti, Cage, Boulez and Schoenberg. Once I started to really listen to this music and fully absorb and understand what was happening, it completely altered my aesthetics. A new world of sound opened up, my artistic values changed, and a lot of the music I had been accustomed to lost its appeal. I eventually got mixed up with some people playing free jazz and free improv, and that really sent me off the deep end. It was another revelation that reframed my perspective on what music is and what it could be.
But some of the most influential artists that really shaped my aesthetics and writing style would have to be MSBR, which was my first introduction to noise as music, Peter Maxwell Davies, particularly Eight Songs for a Mad King, and William Parker, who I had discovered in Bass Player magazine of all places, when I was first going to school. Earth 2 also had a profound impact on my perception of what music, and metal in particular, could be. These four musicians all mark a specific time in my maturation as a musician, and really opened a door for me in my musical appreciation.
What can you tell us about the creation of your newest recording, The Marrow?
It started with the addition of our new drummer, Josh Carro. I had been working on some music that was originally slated to be a solo record, but as I was working on it I realized that it had great potential for an Ehnahre album. So when Josh came on, I adapted it and we started passing demos around, and working on the material, editing things and shaping the songs. It was an interesting experiment, because Josh lives in Los Angeles, and Rich and I live in Boston, and we never actually played or rehearsed any of the material before we recorded it. We had actually never even met in person until our recent west coast tour. But since we weren’t rehearsing together, we would send off demos with the guitar and bass parts, and have no idea what was going to come back. Needless to say, we were very pleased with the results, as well as a bit shocked at how natural Josh could make the material sound. We’re obviously not playing to a metronome or anything, and even some of the more metered parts feature pretty difficult passages with time changes and sliding tempos. It’s material that is difficult to pull off convincingly regardless of the player’s capabilities, never mind without a click or even any guidance from the other musicians. He’s definitely an amazing asset to the band. But when we eventually got the songs to a place we liked, we made final versions of the recordings, and again, passed them back and forth. It all moved along fairly quickly, it only took about 4 or 5 months to write, demo, record and release it.
How would you compare it to your previous releases?
I think it’s a big step forward for us, as it’s the most cohesive expression of our varied influences. Not that in previous releases we were trying to cut and paste styles together, quite the opposite, but with The Marrow, I think we were just more successful in blending these things into a unified artwork, as opposed to it being an unintentional lexicon of techniques. It also, I think, makes more effective use of structured improvisational material. More effective, I would like to think, in the sense that they are a bit more masked in their execution, and they become more firmly embedded in the arc of the song, instead of being presented as a transitional tool, or a clumsy tangent or something like that.
There is a lot of doom metal influences on this release. What draws you to this particular subgenre of heavy music?
I don’t know if I can provide a really articulate reason as to why I tend to prefer doom, but for as long as I can remember, I have just always been drawn to music that was slower and more expansive, regardless of genre. For ”The Marrow” in particular, utilizing more doom influenced material was also quite intentional, as the texts present these big, introspective and despairing life questions sorts of things, and slower music that takes longer to develop was more effective in communicating those ideas.
Ehnahre’s lyrics are often adapted from pieces of poetry. On The Marrow, Theodore Roethke’s poem of the same name is the basis for the lyrics. How do you feel the music of the record compliments Roethke’s words, or vice versa?
As I said, the lyrics always come first, so the music is definitely there to compliment the text, and make it a unified expression. I spent a lot of time conceptualizing the record as a whole, so that it paints a picture of, reflects, and hopefully heightens what is being expressed in the lyrical content. We tried to mirror the sentiments of the text, and retain the mood in them across the whole of the record. We did a similar thing, but in a slightly less rigid sense, within each song, where we would try to establish the atmosphere and do a bit of text painting. It can be something as simple as the opening bass part of the record, with the bow lightly and quickly buzzing across the string with this wispy, airy sound. It was supposed to bring life to, or illustrate the lyric “The wind from off the sea says nothing new, the mist above me sings with its small flies”. The vocals don’t come enter until 7 or 8 minutes into the song, but that sound, which some form or variation of is retained throughout, is meant to set that mood, to embody the aura of the texts. In “A Wandering Fire”, there is the line, “Pain wanders through my bones like a lost fire. What burns me now? Desire, desire, desire.” There is this sense of rudderlessness, being paralleled with a meandering pain, perhaps in the evolution from contemplation to desire. We tried to capture this mood, with very loose, unmetered parts, that were in direct contrast to one another. The busy, tumbling bass being set against this high, soaring guitar part, which eventually moves into a drunken, stumbling landslide, were all very much in service of the texts. I hope they were effective, and the album is littered with things like this, but I’m sure it’s something you’d really have to dig quite deep into to discover.
How do you feel poetry fits into the world of extreme music?
Well, viewing all lyrics as some version of a poem, I think they fit finely into metal, or any other forms of extreme music. Virtually all metal bands write their own lyrics, which you could view as writing their own poetry that they’re setting to music. In an effort to elevate the music a bit, I’m just choosing to farm out that part of the composition process to someone better equipped in than me, as opposed to using whatever piece of shit lyric I can cobble together.
How does Ehnahre go about selecting a particular work to adapt into the lyrics?
I sometimes get recommendations from people, but mostly I just spend a lot of time reading, until I find something that speaks to me, or speaks to something I’m experiencing at the time, or that I just think is particularly moving. I’m basically always on the lookout.
What poems or writings would Ehnahre be interested in adapting in the future and why?
I’ve been sort of obsessed with Weldon Kees lately. He was an obscure poet of the I set a poem of his for an upcoming collaborative record, called “Rites for Winter”. I’d also like to start adapting passages from non poetry sources. I’ve been messing around with some stuff from a Bruno Schulz book lately called Street of Crocodiles. I’ve used some Beckett stuff before, but his material is certainly worth revisiting.
What would you want listeners to take away from Ehnahre’s music?
Best case scenario, we would love it if people heard and enjoyed the music as a cohesive work, and found value in the experience of listening to our record, and it enriched their life experience in some way. But, I obviously understand that Ehnahre is a tough sell, and is really only going to appeal to a small handful of people. So I guess at minimum, I would like listeners to hear that metal can be so much more than just sick riffage, that it can be weird, and confusing, and make you feel or experience things you weren’t expecting to, even if they fucking hate what we’re doing.
What’s next for Ehnahre in the near future?
After a few years of functioning as basically just a studio project, we’d really like to get out and play live a bit more, maybe do a few more tours. We have a few split and collaborative records that we’ll be releasing over the next year.
Any final words of thoughts?
Support weird music. Go see live concerts. Pay for records. Listen closely. When approaching new music, consider it for what it is, not for what it isn’t. Expect more. Drink beer. Send noods. And thanks so much for the interview!
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