It is a bit unusual for you to publish just an album during a year, isn't it?
Not really. The only year I released 2 albums was in 2011 with "Vessels" & "Resurgence" but only because Vessels was supposed to come out earlier in 2010 (and Aftermath in 2009 instead of 2010). But this year, I also released a split album with Labirinto from Brazil, a live DVD and there were also vinyl re-issues of "Aftermath" (with an exclusive bonus EP "Setting Ashes") and "Blackhaunter".
I usually take a long time to finish an album - there are just so many recordings all over the place and a lot of different concept that already exist for a while - a lot of unfinished ideas or compositions between tours, beginning of collaborations, shelved materials that I am unsure of. Most of my albums have been recorded 1 to 4 years before its release - I usually mention the year(s) the album were recorded inside the album, you can find those details on discogs too. For example, the initial sketch of what became "Hex Mountains" started in 2011.
What is the musical path that brought to “Hex Mountains”? Is it realistic to link it particulary to “Aftermath” and your works with Aidan Baker?
I don't think it is particularly linked to "Aftermath" nor the collaborations with Aidan Baker at all, but for sure there are links - for starters, it's more of a collaborative album rather than a complete solo one and they're both guitar drone & improv-based.
The initial idea for the "Hex Mountains" material came from Alaskan's drummer in 2011 - a couple of months after a local show with them, Monarch & Velnias, he proposed himself as a drummer if I ever needed one. I took up his offer and we jammed and recorded a few times in Ottawa, not knowing what the results would become. In parallel, when I was on tour in France in 2012, I had a few days off in the French Basque country and I jammed & record with Émilie from Monarch and Jeanne (with whom I worked with on the track for the Year of No Light split, and who sometimes replaces Émilie in Monarch).
Both of those sessions were never meant to be mixed together, but I wasn't quite sure how to make them stand out on their own. I had a few hours of recordings for each collaborations (sludge with drums & ambient with vocals) to work with. It eventually took me about a year of thoughts & analysis, overdubs & editing to finally make sense of both collaborations and to merge them together as a stronger album by picking the parts that made sense together. In the end, the result was exactly what it should be but as usual, the process to get there took a long time.
In particular, guitar's taste seems to look a bit like what both you and Aidan produced together. What role has guitar played in the album?
I don't really see it that way even though the works for Hex Mountains and those with Aidan were completely improvised. Then again, I don't really change my set-up from albums to albums or collaborations to collaborations because I never have an album concept in mind when I record. I mostly use the same guitar with the same effect pedals in all of my albums, and there's usually the same guitar from the beginning to the end of a record as thisquietarmy has always been based around guitar drone & improvisation like I previously mentioned. So it's normal that there is a stylistic link between the way I use guitar in all of the albums, but it's just a matter of how raw or how structured and layered the tracks tend to become with the post-recording composition process.
But in the mean time, “Hex Mountains” marks a sort of new direction for your music, a bit far from f.e. “Resurgence”'s walls and “Vessels” and “Exorcisms”'s spirituality. Here we are in a sort of mixture of sludge and drone: what elements brought you to this?
All my previous albums were pretty much solo albums, without any influence of other people. And this was the first time I brought real collaborators to create new ideas for thsiquietarmy. There is definitely the influence of the drummer & the vocalists, as when you play with other people, the dynamics of your sound changes and the way you play music also changes. It's a completely different process. There was a lot of self-debate as to whether "Hex Mountains" should be a thisquietarmy album because thisquietarmy has always been 100% solo, but I realized that thisquietarmy can be whatever I want it to be, and what I needed was to bring new ideas and to break beyond the limitation of the one-man band.
Also - after recently touring with several heavy bands such as Caspian, Year of No Light, Nadja and over the years - sharing the stage or opening for bands like Om, Russian Circles, Deafheaven, Maserati & many more - I felt the desire to make an epic record in general, and I wanted to enhance the elements of black metal, doom, dark ambient & post-rock that were already creeping into the thisquietarmy sound over the years. The drums definitely helped to add that thundering heaviness, and the shrieking vocals over the ambient parts definitely added a bit of funeral horror or occult to balance the record out.
And is the album's atmosphere linked, f.e. by the title and the cover art, to a natural landscape?
I wanted a classic artwork that could visually represent the sound elements present in the record - the mountains describe something larger than life, and the hex for the witchy ritualistic elements. The natural landscapes can be linked to black metal and post-rock as classic visual symbols and the haziness for the typical ethereal/ambient feel, the mysterious menacing clouds add some evil mysticism in there too. It also means a lot I took the photos while on tour in Europe since being on the road has now become a big part of my life and it definitely inspired the making of the record in a general way.
Are you going to follow “Hex Mountains” direction in the future, or are you going to go on mantaining various different styles and sounds basing on the single album's nature, as you've done until today?
That's the question that I am trying to answer myself, but there will not be any answers until I actually start to record something.
In a way, Hex Mountains also came out from the limitations of the solo thisquietarmy process: the repetitive drum machines & the guitar drone loops are elements that have been used a lot. I feel like I've released enough records that way, while maintaining different styles for each of the album and it's hard to find new ideas using the same tools over and over again. And I've always considered that Resurgence was the end of a chapter in some ways.
I have a several ideas about what I'd like to try in terms of sound and song structures - some ideas might be an extension of Hex Mountains, others ideas are completely different. But most likely, some ideas may be a bit too ambitious to realize them by myself. I think that bringing collaborators for Hex Mountains opened doors to bringing more different collaborators in the future but it doesn't mean that there will never be another solo or ambient album again.
What instruments did you use in the album? And did you change it or add/remove something compare to the past?
I only used guitars and effects as usual and the whole album is mostly comprised of guitars as there's no moment on the record where there's no guitar. If you think a certain sound is not a guitar, it's probably because it's been heavily processed through pedals. Part of why it's still a typical thisquietarmy album to me. There were guests from Scotty Rooney drums, Dorian Williamson on bass (I also played bass on a track) & processed vocals from Émilie Bresson & Jeanne Peluard. Jeanne also played some processed brass instruments through out the recordings but it's hard to identify them and I'm not even sure they really appear on the album. I also recorded the album in different spaces and I used the amps that were available there, such as borrowed Vox AC30, Ampeg SVTs or PA systems, different recording techniques or recording equipments or microphones for each session.
Usually I record mostly at home, either directly with pre-amps or with my own small Traynor amps and I sometimes add synthesizers sporadically. Going back seriously to the first question, has “Hex Mountains” required you much more time to be completed compare to your previous works?
In terms of the time spent playing and recording, it took less time because they were sessions that took 2-3 days for each. But in terms of knowing what to do with those recordings, analyzing every parts - editing, re-structuring, adding overdubs, mixing the drums, the vocals, the bass and the different parts to the guitar (like I said, thisquietarmy is always based around guitar), I think it took a bit more time to complete and to get to a point of satisfaction where I felt comfortable to call it a finished record.
What do you think about the fact of releasing album for much more different labels? And the choice to give an album to a label and not to another one, what is determined by?
I like working with different labels, because it allows to plant seeds through several different networks. However, Denovali has released 3 new records of mine and 3 re-issues in the last 2 years and that's something that no labels could possibly realize for me. Combined with my constant touring in Europe, they've helped a lot to spread and promote thisquietarmy there, particularly in Germany and surrounding countries. So they are currently my main label, and they are motivated to continue to release more records from me. I also do a lot of collaborations or splits with other artists/bands, most of the time the other band has their own ideas or wishes of releasing the record with another label and that's fine with me since I like working with other labels. especially from other countries. I also like to release limited hand-made objects, 7" or tapes through my own micro-label TQA Records.
Does the sound target of a label influence your artistical choices too?
Not at all. The expression and the creativity of music comes first. Whether the music fits a label or not is a subjective question of taste, marketing, distribution, etc. - it's up to them to figure out how to promote it and get it out there.
What elements do usually bring inspiration to you in composing and recording?
I create in terms of what/how I feel, and what pours out is a reaction to what's around me: life experiences, world events, personal relationships, etc. Obviously in terms of sound, I'm affected by whatever grabs my attention, but it's still something that comes from within... I don't really know how to explain it or analyze that as each time I create, it's like I'm doing it for the first time but the results are different each time.
What is the relationship between the idea and the performance of your music? Basically: what part does improvisation play in studio?
Improvisation is a huge part of the composition in the studio. Without improvisation, there wouldn't be any ideas to build a track of music from. I don't come up and think of some music in my head, then record it. It never happens like that for me. I need to play and improvise, then I need to listen and react to those improvisations to bring it further into whatever concept the track will lead it to.
And instead, how do you build your live performances?
My live performances can be very different from one another. Ultimately, I'll have song structures and sequences that I've learned to build up and play from live improvisation. But in between those, I decide what to do on the spot - whether I start with a certain track depends on how I feel at that moment, on the atmosphere of the event, the venue, the sound system, the soundman, the audience - they all play a critical role as to where the performance will lead to. For example, if I play in a professional venue with a powerful sound system, I will probably take advantage of it. If I play in a church, I will probably want to play with the acoustics of the space and play with the dynamics of echoes. The live performance is not a rehearsed performance, just an expression of how I feel at that particular moment, which is influenced by all the different elements I mentioned.
You are active in other artistic fields, multimedia in particular. Does a link among all of your artistic souls exist?
All my artistic mediums are an expression of my "soul", so of course there is a link between all of them as the source is the same. Which is why it makes sense to use my photography, videos, design skills in the context of my music. Because my artistic output is so personal to me, it's really hard to provide art for another person or to work for someone else, or to let someone else do a video or an artwork for me.
What are you going to do in and what are your projects for this just-started 2014?
Some collaborations with Syndrome are ready for release, and also one with Noveller. I'm currently booking a tour for the spring, where I will play a few festivals including Dunk Festival in Belgium, a post-rock oriented festival that I've been following for a long time, and Dudefest in Germany (lineup includes Church of Ra, Locrian, True Widow). We'll see where the itinerary and the offers take me, but I am trying to do a follow-up to the tour I did last fall (mostly Portugal, Spain, south of France, Italy), so this time hopefully more Germany, eastern Europe, maybe Scandinavia and more. Meanwhile, I'm recording sketches & demos for a potential new album, probably in 2015.