Agalloch are one of those bands who really truly put a lot of thought into every aspect of what they do. That may seem a strange statement to make but their considered and confident approach has worked immeasurably in their favour in enabling them to produce something with their new album 'The Mantle' that is highly absorbing and sets the mind racing with all sorts of questions - hence this interview.


Answers courtesy of J. William W. and J. Haughm

Dan

There's an air of mystery surrounding Agalloch that appears intentional - there's no website, few interviews etc - is the intention to retain some obscurity about the band?
JWW: Agalloch prefers to let our music and imagery speak for itself. There is no reason to whore ourselves and our work out to the public. If this is construed as being obscure, then so be it. We have no problem being in the shadows.

It must be immensly satisfying to create something that people have no clue how to define - at the same time are you worried that the lack of an easily classifiable label for Agalloch may turn off more people than it may attract?
JWW: Yes, it is satisfying, but only for the reason that anything less would be immensely unsatisfying. Why would we want to make something safe and easy for people to categorize, number and stamp, and throw in a bin with In Flames or some other flavor of the week? We write what comes naturally to us, as each of us has a very wide variety of influences, therefore, it is only natural that our music would shine with a different light than others. I don't see how this could possibly harm us in any real meaningful way. Perhaps we could lose some fans; perhaps people won't appreciate "The Mantle" as much as "Pale Folklore," but why in the hell would we want to write "Pale Folklore Part II"? In the end, we have little concern for any people that may get turned off by a band they can't put their finger on and understand immediately.
J. William W.


Presentation seems important - the artwork on 'The Mantle' comes in glorious silver packaging with many well conceived photos - do you see the presentation and the music as one?
JWW: Of course. We all believe that an album is more than music, it is an all sensory experience if performed well. The imagery must compliment the music and vice versa. We do not take the imagery lightly. It is well thought-out and each part has meaning which compliments the whole.

The Mantle

You never feel that you are setting yourselves up as targets for being too 'high-brow' or 'pompous'? Your interests seem to spread to all aspects of art, photography, literature, culture - are you involved in other artistic endeavours outside of Agalloch?
JWW: We are lovers of art and media. Haughm and Anderson are very big film fans. Anderson, Breyer and I are incessant readers. All four of us are ravenous music fans. We know what we like, and we know what we want to create. We do not tout our music as being "high brow," we just take the time to painstakingly construct our music and we care greatly about each detail. We have no interest in churning out an album every year that sounds the same as the last, or that sounds the same as every other band out there. We want to make each album unique and the make it the best experience we can. We don't want to insult anyone's intelligence by making an album anything less than it possibly could be, including our own. We have many other artistic endeavors, most noteworthy would be Sculptured, Susurrus Inanis, Nothing and Especially Likely Sloth. All other projects are under ice for now.

It seems funny to me that people make comparisons to acts like Opeth and Katatonia as I fail to see the connection.....maybe Ulver on 'Bergtatt' is the closet I can come up with or some 3rd and The Mortal - you seem generally displeased with any metal comparisons. So naturally you'll be horrified to learn that I hear a lot of Layne Stayley moments in the vocals?
JWW: I'm not concerned with Agalloch having metal comparisons, we are influenced by a few metal bands, and we come out of the metal scene. What I am concerned with is being limited to those very tight paradigms. Opeth was never an influence, no matter what anyone says, but Katatonia was. Ulver is in there as well as is 3rd And The Mortal. As far as Layne Stayley goes, I don't hear it, but I don't think anyone would be particularly horrified to hear that comparison. Alice In Chains' first album had its moments.

Much of the music has a choral aspect to it - almost hymn-like in a way - in this way its shares a very austere feeling, atmosphere is an integral part of the listening experience?
Haughm: Yes, of course, but I think texture and depth are just as important.


If as you've said in the past you try to incorporate as many non-metal influences as possible do you find it somewhat frustrating to be lumped in with the metal scene? Are you trying to break out away from the metal scene altogether or simply trying to embrace as many potential scenes as possible?
JWW: I don't find it frustrating, it makes lots of sense to me. As I said before, I’m more concerned with being limited by boundaries. Because Agalloch is called metal, doesn’t mean we have to write metal music. Scenes don't limit bands, bands limit bands.

John Haughm
Enlighten the metalheads out there as to what you find so captivating about acts like Sol Invictus, Death in June and Current 93
Haughm: A certain atmosphere on releases such as Sol Invictus "The Blade", Death In June "Rose Clouds Of Holocaust", Fire+Ice "Birdking", Current 93 "Of Ruine Or Some Blazing Starre", to name some more common releases, is one that I find captivating, haunting, and fascinating. There are several quality neo-folk/martial groups I enjoy like; Darkwood, Orplid, Les Joyaux De La Princesse, Allerseelen, Spiritual Front, Scivias, Blood Axis, Ernte, Actus,...to name a few. I just like music which moves me somehow whether it be some of these folk-noir groups, older black metal stuff, techno, jazz, post-punk, Industrial, indie-rock, classical, blues, 80's new wave, normal rock 'n' roll......whatever suits my mood.

Are you a fan of Swans? Cos I see a lot of what you and also a band like Beyond Dawn produce flowing from the same veins as them, the sense of melancholia and withdrawal from conventional structures...
Haughm: Anderson, JWW and I are big SWANS fans. I am particularly into their mid-period "White Light..." and "Love Of Life" era. So yes, they have been a great influence on our work.

Don Anderson

Vocals are used sparingly on Agalloch tunes but when inserted have great dramatic effect.....are you a follower of the less is more philosophy? Certainly you don't overburden your recordings with convuluted passages - they say the secret of great songwriting is as much about what you leave out as what you put in...
Haughm: Yes, definately. Who needs a bunch of unnecessary vocal parts that do nothing but cloud up the body of the song? Could you imagine "Odal" with vocals?! Absolutely rediculous!

Is there a pagan feature to Agalloch - seemingly there's an appreciation of archiac values if nothing else?
Haughm: Yes, I truely believe that without the abuse of Christianity, Islam, or judaism, we'd be better off as a species. A heathen world is a better world.

I hear the Americans are making a remake of the Wicker Man which is sure to suck, but watching the film the other night it struck me that Agalloch might have provided a perfect soundtrack to the original had you been around at the time...
Haughm: I don't know anything about this remake. Whether it will 'suck' or not would depend on the director. If, for instance, David Cronenberg or E. Elias Merhige were to direct it, it almost certainly would be fantastic. Not everything that "the Americans" touch turns to shit. However, unfortunately, some Hollywood monkey will probably end up directing/destroying the remake if it even happens...

Following on from this I'd suggest that Agalloch's music would fit well on a film soundtrack - are you influenced at all by film soundtracks and if so are there any that you particularly admire?
Haughm: Perhaps some of Breyer's synth pieces and songs like "Odal" could work well in a film. In fact, we've been thinking of making a 7 minute conceptual short film for the song "Odal". I've been discussing my ideas with an up-in-coming Finnish director (who's a friend of mine) as well as a couple local film makers. I guess we'll see what happens.
Some film soundtracks I really enjoy include; "Dead Man", "Requiem For A Dream", "Eraserhead", "Begotten", the rather esoteric, non-musical soundtrack to "The Birds", and I also really like the music in some German cult horror films, particularly Herman Kopp's soundtracks for Buttgereit's "Nekromantik" and "Der Todesking".

Pale Folklore There's some Cure/Fields of the Nephilim echoed guitars opening up the track 'Odal' - I guess you refute the term goth as well?
Haughm: The Cure, yes. Fields Of The Nephilim, not so much. There was more of a Nephilim influence while writing "Pale Folklore". "Odal" was a direct result of me listening to a lot of the SWANS, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, The Cure, and such and I wanted to create something with a similer melancholic and 'distant' sort of vibe. There is also somewhat a political statement behind that song. I wrote it as a personal protest against George W. Bush's apathetic, ignorant, and destructive view towards the environment. I really hate that fucking idiot and his bullshit administration.
JWW: I cringe whenever I hear the term "goth." It makes me think of white suburban kids age 14-16 living with no real problems in their lives and being obsessed with mainstream culture and thought, yet thinking otherwise. It's hard for me to credit a band or style of music with a guitar tone. "Echoed" guitars could be Eric Clapton, or even Led Zeppelin.

Themes of nature abound on all of the releases so far - references to oak, bleak coldness, dark nights, wind, the elements and the enviroment in general - what do you draw from your base in Portland Oregon that enables you to write so emotively about these subjects?

JWW: Haughm, Breyer and I come from one of the most beautiful places in the States, if not the world, Montana. Nature is a huge factor of daily life whether it be in Montana, or in Oregon just because of the amazing scenery alone. We all draw great inspiration from the mountains, the European-esque architecture of downtown Portland, and the ocean that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

J. William W.
J. William W.

I think you've travelled a fair bit (outside of the States) - maybe its these experiences of foreign influences that have produced such an unusual sound for Agalloch?
Haughm: Not really. I have only been to Canada, Finland, Estonia, and Holland and none of those environments have had any more influence on Agalloch than our normal surroundings do.

As far as I'm aware Agalloch has never played live - do you feel that it would be difficult to achieve the atmospheres produced on the records in a live enviroment? A sweaty club might not be conducive to chilling sounds...
Haughm: A nice old theatre pub or even in a lodge somewhere for an acoustic set would be nice.
Agalloch


Is there a unified concept behind 'The Mantle' - musically the same acoustic passage begins the record in 'A Celebration for the Death of Man' and ends it within '...And the Great Cold Death of the Earth' - those titles themselves seem to bookend a concept of little hope
Haughm: Yeah, it is a conceptual prolog/epilog piece which brings the entire album together in context. This was certainly intentional. The 'theme' riff shows up in different forms a total of 4 times throughout the album.

Are you warning against abuse of the Earth - perhaps there's a closest Greenpeace activist within you?
JWW: You don't have to be a member of Greenpeace to admire nature. On the whole, I can't stand those activist groups, they repeatedly do unnatural things in the name of nature.
Haughm: In Oregon a couple years ago, we were having a lot of problems with 'eco-terrorists'. These fanatical environmentalists would do things like burn down SUV dealerships and logging sites in an attempt to make a statement. Though their hearts are in the right place, their actions did absolutely no good and just put a stigma on environmentally conscious people. Actually, It's quite similer to the Norwegian church arsens of the early 90's...


'A Desolation Song' seems to end the album with you as the last survivor of a great disaster - are you offering any hope or redemption in the final reckoning?
JWW: "A Desolation Song" is about hopelessness, solitude, loneliness, and drinking. The only hope comes when you give up hope.
Haughm: It's role is that of an afterthought once the main body of the album has ended.


"Of Stone Wind and Pillor" mini CD


Agalloch



Interview by Dan Tobin
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