This album was more far more id than frontal lobe or left hemisphere…
It’s late, very late, and you’re driving across country. The radio is on. The host starts talking about an unidentified, well-dressed man found dead on Somerton beach in Australia in early December, 1948. Sewn into a hidden pocket is a printed scrap of paper cut out from a book reading “tamam shud” (meaning “finished” in Persian). The book itself is later found and contains several hand-written ciphers. The Ciphers were never solved. The corpse was never identified. Even the book itself appears to be from an edition that has no record of ever being printed.
An interesting story – and one still being wheeled out today by everyone from newspapers to conspiracy theorists alike (Google it) – for Richmond, VA’s Harmonic Cross, it becomes the subject of their ethereal, ambient and dark debut album, It Is Finished (reviewed here). Here, Brent Eyestone talks to MR’s Jason Guest about a number of topics including the many bands he’s involved with, the album, the case that inspired it, and the challenges and successes of running his record label, Magic Bullet Records…
Thank you very much for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on It Is Finished. To get us up to speed, can you give us some background on Harmonic Cross, how the band formed and what inspired you to write under this name?
The three of us have been friends for years and huge supporters of each other’s music for just as long, as we all met through touring and playing shows. Before Harmonic Cross, Graham and I had played a lot of music together in various bands and special projects, everything from more traditional bands to Rhys Chatham’s 200-piece guitar orchestra. All of us also had solo ambient records come out around the same time via my label Magic Bullet Records. Graham and Ryan’s projects (Ventoux and Years, respectively) did a split CD on the label, Years did a double CD, my project (Aughra) did a full length, a split with Mosh Patrol (Chris from This Will Destroy You and Symbol), and several tapes. We were all being super productive on our own and in the various bands we were doing and our kinship just clicked. In fact, aside from my solo stuff, I don’t believe I’ve done a single band or project since 2007 without Graham being right there with me.
At one point, Ryan quit his full time band and the idea came up for him to join a new dark indie band Graham and I were working on called Highness. Before we got to work on that, we decided to have an impromptu gathering at Graham’s house to feel each other out musically and try to make some new sounds on the spot. It is Finished is a document of that first musical moment between the three of us in one room. We enjoyed the process and the results, so Harmonic Cross was formed. I recorded it at Graham’s place and mixed it at mine.
What inspired the band name?
I don’t particularly remember the origin other than to say that it seemed to find us just as quickly and organically as the music itself. Personally, I like its visual representation of perfect symmetry. Graham and Ryan make me feel balanced when we write, conceptualize, record, and perform together in any band incarnation, so the name makes me think of that secure place I go to when they’re around. In that sense, there has been harmony ever since our paths crossed.
The album takes the unsolved case of the Somerton Man as its inspiration. Where did you hear about this case? And why choose to write music inspired by it?
I’ve done countless night drives with Graham and a bunch with Ryan. There’s a radio program out here called “Coast to Coast” with Art Bell. It runs during the hours where only travelling musicians, truck drivers, and general mutants are on the road. It’s usually on the AM dial, so it has an eerie tone, but the subject matter is just off the rails. Conspiracies, theories, mysteries… it’s all there and it’s such an entertaining listen and fun place to go mentally. We also grew up with Robert Stack’s “Unsolved Mysteries.” On nights it was on, it was always the last thing I’d see before bed, so cases like this are exciting to us. The Somerton Man case came about in an email thread where the three of us were sharing some of our favourite unsolved mysteries with links for the others to read. Something about it just stuck out and captivated us.
How did you set about adapting the case to music?
It’s wasn’t too tricky. The three of us inherently make dark, weird, eerie music quite easily. There were 5 ciphers in the book where “Taman Shud” was clipped from, so the ciphers + “Taman Shud” became song titles. The idea was to create an atmosphere… another dimension for people to investigate and read up on the case itself. If that experience is heightened by the music we made, then I’m happy.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted the album to sound or did each of the tracks and the whole thing take shape as it was being developed?
Honestly, it all came together non-verbally for the most part. We set up gear we wanted to play and wove in and out of what of each other was doing instinctively. This album was more far more id than frontal lobe or left hemisphere.
Sonically, this is very different to your other bands. Is your approach to writing different for Harmonic Cross?
Harmonic Cross would probably be the most “open” format in terms of the music we create together. I don’t think any of us have applied any “rules” upon it just yet. It’s still forming and it will grow. Bleach Everything has a very specific sound: essentially fast hardcore that embraces violent-sounding absurdity. It will likely stay that way. Highness is a lot of trying to figure out where everything will fit together sonically… it’s the more labour-intensive of the three, perhaps the most accessible-sounding.
How long were you working on the material?
The music itself poured out instantly. It’s almost like it was just “there” and all we had to do was get in the same room to capture it. Once the tracks were recorded, it did take me a good while to mix it. There was a learning curve in the sense that I’ve had the good fortune of working with so many great engineers over the years and picking up so much useful knowledge from their craft, but am not nearly as fluent or adept. Working with Andrew Schneider on the Highness album really showed me how important the position of each element is across all frequencies. After that experience, I had to spend a lot of time refining the “how”s of that principle. It took a while, but once I figured it out, we had a mix that the three of were really feeling.
Does Harmonic Cross offer anything that your other bands perhaps don’t?
All of our bands are just a different part of our brains and creative expression. It worked out that we are on the same page with what we want to do from project to project. It’s a healthy situation to be in. Got something you want to try? Well, if it doesn’t work for any of the three existing entities, we can always just start a new one!
Any plans for Harmonic Cross to play live?
We’ve discussed it. It’s ambitious, to say the least. Just as we enjoy the album being another dimension toward someone studying the case, we’d want to add many wrinkles and dimensions into the live experience of our music. It would not be a traditional band-oriented show in the slightest.
What would be the ideal setting for a performance of It Is Finished?
Without spoiling potential concepts we’ve discussed, the general idea is for an attendee to be completely disoriented from their traditional set of expectations of “seeing a band” and immersed into a whole different experience entirely. The three of us would be playing music in these settings, but our visibility as a “band” would be the least important aspect of what a person would be taking in once they pass through the doors. A successful execution of our live concept would involve an actual cast of people working the entire time.
What does the future hold for the Harmonic Cross? Is there more music on the works?
There’s other music that I haven’t mixed just yet. There’s also talk of making entirely new material toward new mysteries and phenomenon. I see Graham and Ryan tomorrow when they come to California for some shows we’re doing with Bleach Everything. Now that the Harmonic Cross LP is actually out and getting such a warm reception, I’m positive we’ll be brainstorming.
The album is being released through your own label, Magic Bullet Records. What challenges does a label face in an era where, despite the law, the illegal sharing of music files is in abundance? How does a record label survive?
I’m not really too caught up in the file-sharing debate or industry-shrinking hand-wringing. I keep it really simple here – Ian MacKaye (of Fugazi)’s Dischord has and will always be the business model – and we’ve simply cultivated a great, loyal audience over the last 18 or so years that’s not only willing to embrace the diversity of band selection and sounds, but also support it consistently across the various platforms. I support bands and sounds that I believe in and it has struck enough of a chord with like-minded people that we’re able to keep growing and getting into more interesting stuff each and every year. I’m grateful for that.
Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
Feel free to download the entire Harmonic Cross album for free on Bandcamp