Interview with Kyle Alexander McDonald of Zaum


“Encompassed within is the answer from a greater power…”

Interview by Jason Guest

Hi Kyle. Thank you very much for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on Oracles (reviewed here). To begin, can you tell us about how ZAUM formed? What was it that drew you together to make music?

Chris and I have been close friends for a long time. We both work in the live music scene; Chris being a bartender and myself a FOH sound engineer and booker. We’ve worked together since 2000 and both of us have played in bands since the mid-90’s but never together. It just made sense at a time where we wanted to progress to a new and more focused level musically.

Who would you say are ZAUM’s main influences? And how much of an impact do they have on the writing of your material?

I think my influences rub off on me like anyone else. One can’t help but soak up some of it when you’re a music enthusiast! I wrote and recorded this record in late 2013 so maybe listing my top 10 albums of last year would make sense?

  1. Lustmord – The Word As Power
  2. Ghost – Infesstissumam
  3. Big Business – Battlefields Forever
  4. The Body – Christs, Redeemers
  5. Raspberry Bulbs – Deformed Worship
  6. Satan – Life Sentence
  7. Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance
  8. Locrian – Return To Annihilation
  9. Vista Chino – Peace
  10. Shooting Guns – Brotherhood Of The Ram
Kyle Alexander McDonald (Vocals, Bass, Sitar,  Synth) & Christopher Lewis (Drums, Lights)
Kyle Alexander McDonald (Vocals, Bass, Sitar,
Synth) & Christopher Lewis (Drums, Lights)

Can you tell us about the band name, where it came from, and what it means to the band and its music?

I’ve actually used the word as a title for my personal demos since 1993 and it just made sense when the time came to name the band. ZAUM defines the form of communication beyond that of which we are commonly familiar with and use as humans. By harnessing ZAUM, one is able to communicate at a higher form without the boundaries of a modern spoken language. ZAUM tells of a deeper meaning in the medium beyond the borders defined by the music – experienced as a deep mental elevation.

You describe yourself as “Middle Eastern Mantra Doom”, two ideas that I never thought I would see put together. Can you elaborate on what this means to you?

The heart of ZAUM lies in the old middle-east while the message via the mind (mantra) is translated into a droned doom space. We’re very much on our own trip and not trying to fit in with any pre-ventured path or formula of any kind.

ZAUM’s approach to bass and drums as instruments is very different. Generally speaking, bass and drums are regarded as the property of the rhythm section, their purpose – conceptually speaking – subservient to the guitars and vocals. How do you view your instruments and the possibilities they afford?

The message can be communicated with so many instrumental configurations, it just so happens bass and drums fit very well in our case. The idea is to simplify while harnessing and transposing our headspace. Our music and voice should be subservient to the listeners mind. Our quest is to create a piece that can put you somewhere, and the potential seems endless with our current reality.

For your bass, you have a custom stereo FX setup that’s layered with sitar textures and synth. Can you give us a quick rundown of it?

I play a custom Gibson SG-J bass which is essentially an SG modified with a Fender Jazz pickup between the SG bridge pickup and the bridge (which is incredibly close to the bridge itself). Each pickup has its own volume/tone control and the bass has a stereo line out. My pedal board consists of two chains (one pickup to each). I also use a Digitech JML2 for various subtle sectioned textures which I’ve pre-recorded.

  • Chain 1 -> Tuner -> Noise Suppressor -> EHX Ravish Sitar -> EHX LPB-1 -> HBE UFO Octave Fuzz -> MXR Carbon Copy -> Boss DD-7 -> Carvin SLP600-2 -> 4×10 Traynor TC410Cab
  • Chain 2 ->Tuner -> EHX POG 2 -> AA EOK Custom Octave Fuzz -> MXR Carbon Copy -> EHX Holy Stain -> EHX Freeze -> Traynor Monoblock II -> 4×10 SWR Working Pro Cab

ZAUM’s music has a meditative feel to it in it feels like a journey. How do you approach composition? Do you begin with a melody, a passage, or the concept? And how do you develop these ideas?

When I write and play live – it very much comes from a meditative headspace. When I sit down to write, I’ll sometimes enter a reality whereby I lose concept of where I am – it’s almost like a loss of consciousness. When I finally snap out of it, I realize I’ve discovered a beautiful (whether dark, light or a combination of the two) and foreign place. From there, I record my ideas and revisit them later. Other times I’ll sit down with these intentions and it just doesn’t happen. When it does, I know every single time because it’s a total experience.

Zaum – Oracles
Zaum – Oracles

The album is conceptually driven by a fascination with the ancient Middle East between 300BC and 600 AD. What do you find so fascinating about this period? And how did you approach rendering it in music?

I find the period interesting in general really. The religious turmoil is an interest for certain. I’m intrigued how it tends to focus around the sacred area in which the dome of the rock now exists. You’ll notice in the retail version of the artwork for Oracles, there is a “blueprint” (if you will) of the dome of the rock that would be built in this place shortly thereafter. I’m an ancient history buff, especially Asian-based. I’m only scratching the surface really; it’s more of an interest than anything else I suppose. I’m fascinated with old/early world music of all kinds and that rubs off on me in general. With Oracles, there is a greater “universal” power sort of viewing society during that time period from a higher perspective. It’s not to say that this “power” doesn’t exist beyond this time frame; this is just a documentation of this period.

Music is a very powerful medium for conveying messages, secular and spiritual. Do you think that music – something intangible and abstract – is itself imbued with a power to provide an avenue into these unknown aspects of existence?

Absolutely. This is exactly what ZAUM is, an avenue to potentially access this power if you’ll allow yourself. I think there is a lack of this kind of music these days in the general public eye, maybe to be more specific – in the metal related community. We’d hope to potentially lead people to experience this natural trip who may not have previous. For those who are already well versed, hopefully they can partake and feel relevance in what we’re getting at.

Both of you play in other bands. Does ZAUM afford you opportunities for expression that your other bands perhaps don’t?

It certainly does. Neither of us has been able to achieve anything like this prior. Most recent, I was the frontman in Shevil, a 3-bassed stoner doom band though typically had more upbeat material than ZAUM. Chris has been the frontman in Canadian stoner-rock legends Iron Giant (since 2001) who are very post Motorhead with a stoner edge, upbeat and aggressive. I think both bands have their own place for exactly what they are – though both are very much more physical and earthly bands. ZAUM is most certainly its own beast and allows us a whole new level of exploration.

What does the future hold for ZAUM? Its early days I know as Oracles is yet to be released, but is there more material in the works?

We have begun writing for our next record already. If things go as planned, we’d like to have our second record out by this time next year.

You’re playing a number of shows in September and October across Europe. Any plans to visit the UK?

We’d ideally like to hit the UK by December. If not, I’m certain by the first quarter of 2015 we will have an extensive UK tour lined up which I’m particularly excited for.

Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?

Sincere thanks for your interest in ZAUM! Our album is available on CD/LP/Cassette for order via Zaum’s Bandcamp page.

Dim or kill any direct or intrusive lighting, play the album and relax. Encompassed within is the answer from a greater power via the language of the birds § language of the gods § language of the stars § ZAUM.

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