The ArcTanGent Interview: James “Jimbob” Isaac (Silverburn)


Born in the midst of the 2020 Covid lockdown, Silverburn is the solo project of metal wizard James ‘Jimbob’ Isaac. With new album Self Induced Transcendental Annihilation recently released and gaining traction plus forthcoming dates looming with supergroup Mutoid Man, it is looking like exciting times ahead. The Midlands Rocks sat down with the super humble ‘Jimbob’ afters the band’s triumphant set (reviewed here) at this year’s ArcTanGent festival.

You’re fresh off stage at ArcTanGent. How was it?

It was really good fun, super happy, we really enjoyed it. It’s actually only our second show ever and it feels great to be here, album’s just come out. Good times.

How do you pump yourself up for a midday show?

It’s fine, you have that half hour window to set your equipment up, then you go. In some ways it is a high-pressure thing, but that just feeds into the excitement and energy. I loved it.

Was Silverburn’s debut album a case of art imitating life? It sounds like a very angry album. Was it your response to Covid?

Not necessarily thematically. It was more like the Covid environment was the incentive to be creative. The aggression and the intensity of the material came from a more personal source. There’s some pretty intense topics on there, but ultimately it is a healing album; I had probably two-and-a-half years of not making any music at all after the end of my previous band, Hark. I made the album for myself with a very much “no fucks given” attitude, and it was rewarding in every sense. It was an incredible creative process and it was super rewarding. It feels people are identifying with the intensity and the authenticity of the album. I haven’t made this album to make friends or be popular, I wanted to express a lot of influences that I wasn’t able to express within my previous bands. There are a lot of 1990’s/2000’s metallic hardcore, noise rock, noise metal, a lot of bands from Relapse Records, bands like Kiss It Goodbye, Unsane, early Converge. There seems to be a thread from what I put into my previous bands has also come through on this record as well.

The album does seem a departure from your previous work. Was that a deliberate move?

Not necessarily deliberate, but once I had written the first song, which was ‘Annihilation’ itself, I remember laughing and thinking that no one will play this, I’ll finish the album as a digital self-made thing, put it up on Bandcamp. I never thought that two years later I’d have recorded it entirely myself. So, it wasn’t such a conscious decision to make it so different, but it just turned out that way. By the end of writing that first song, I realised this is going to be intense, and I then allowed more of the gnarly, noisy influences to come through.

What was it like recoding the album yourself, and how easy is it to exercise editorial control over your own work?

In some ways I find it easier than working with other people, because I don’t have to compromise or worry about offending somebody because I don’t want to take their ideas on. Actually, because I had to do so much rebuilding within myself after the end of Hark, doing the album this way was the only way I was interested in making an album. I didn’t want to jam or collaborate with anyone else; a friend from the UK asked me to help write an album, and I politely declined, I just wasn’t interested, so in a way I found it far easier to do it myself.

It sounds like the album was a real rebirth for you.

It certainly was. A lot of themes on the album are centred around annihilation or breakdown and the rebirth and rebuild, and philosophy. Whether I’m talking about Jungian philosophy, metaphysics, healing, journeys, healing practices, all of that is intertwined within the album.

How did you exercise editorial control over your own work? How did you know when you reached a cut-off point?

If you look at it like a two-and-a-half-year process, the first 12 months I wrote and assembled all the songs, eight songs as a digital demo, where I organically created the drum tracks, no pre-set loops, no gridding, all the rhythms and tempos I physically tapped in with control pads. It was a very organic, rhythmic approach, despite it being in a digital medium. Once all the songs were written, I spent a year practising the physical drums and bringing my body up to the level of my mind and what I’d written. But, in terms of the editorial aspect, when you are really focused on something and you know how to write a song, you will allow that song to write itself, and you will know when it is ready. Plus, I set myself that 12 month deadline, so I knew what had to be done, and I had to be militant with myself and be focused in all aspects of my life. Each time I came to the end of a song, I knew when it was done, and if I had bits lingering, I’d let it stew for a few days.

Now the album has been out in the world for a week, how do you feel about it?

There’s been a lot of learning, a lot of healing in this journey, to heal you have to sit in the fire. It was an album I did for me, and it’s very satisfying.

There seems to be a few bands at this festival tapping into an esoteric, sci-fi aesthetic. What’s the zeitgeist?

For me, I’m coming from a genuine interest in meditation and metaphysics, and in terms of the lyrical content and the artwork, I wouldn’t say I’m coming from a space aspect, but more an astral or multidimensional aspect. The cover art was my first digital painting, and is different to my other artwork, it has a transcendental, otherworldly aspect, and not so much outer space, but more the inner journey.

The video for ‘Formless Atomization Of Omniscient Particulate’ looks very striking. How involved were you in its production?

That was a lot of fun. That does have a sci-fi aesthetic with the cyborg theme, my band mates were filmed with me against a green screen and that meant I could be duplicated and play all the instruments in the video. I thought it was a fun way to present myself playing all the instruments. I handled the post-production and the CGI, and just like the album, it was a learning process because I wanted to get better at this stuff.

Silverburn is a very personal project, so how has it been playing with a band and maybe relinquishing some control? And how have they interpreted your ideas?

I don’t feel like I’ve had to relinquish control because the creativity was in making the album itself. Adam and Ross are both strong players, I feel very lucky to have them, and they knew what this was about and they wanted to step up and play the music as it is on the album. Perhaps Adam is interpreting the drums slightly differently, but as long as it is sympathetic and complimentary to what’s on the album then I’m more than happy with it. He’s doing a great job, Ross is doing a great job so I definitely don’t feel like there’s any sense of relinquishing control in that respect.

What was the reasoning for reforming a three-piece band, as opposed to a quart or quintet?

My two previous bands were power trios, so I was in Taint from 1994 to 2010, then Hark from 2010 to 2017 which when it did expand to a four-piece didn’t work for me at all. So, I’m returning to the power trio that I’ve done since 1994. I’m a big fan of the real deal power trio, everything counts. Personally, I’m not interested in working with another guitar player, I don’t feel as if I’m here to be a guitar player or a frontman, I’m here to be a holistic songwriter, that’s my thing. Some bands with two guitars certainly are fantastic, but it’s not for me. Sometimes second guitarists can become very superfluous, it’s like fast food; you get the instant hit, but 10 minutes later you feel rotten inside.

Things have moved fast for Silverburn; this is only your second gig, and at a big festival too, plus you have dates coming up with Mutoid Man. Has it surprised you at all?

To be able to play ArcTanGent as a second show is great, we are super humbled. We were actually booked on the strength of the digital demos, so to me that says a lot. We were booked on the strength of the music, the ArcTanGent people are great, they know what they are doing. Being booked here was the final impetus for me to push through with the album and artwork.

What’s next? Will you continue to write and record solo, or will Silverburn become a more collaborative affair?

We’ll see. I could be open to it becoming collaborative, but at the same time I love drumming. I have tons of drum tracks ready to go to demo another album, more than likely I’ll do that because it will give me more reason to improve as a drummer, I find it deeply rewarding to drum, so I’d like to do this again as another album.

Finally, if I had a magic wand and could make any dream come true for Silverburn, what would it be?

A fun tour with someone like Converge of Gojira would be really great.