We’re just vessels, the carriers of the message…
Originally joining forces in a forest to play a one off funeral doom piece at an intimate festival in their home town of Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, Russia, that performance ignited something in the members which set them off on a much longer creative path together and become Below The Sun. Its roots in sludge and funeral doom, with progressive aspects very much reaching upwards to an ethereal, otherworldly plane, and with the album’s narrative told from the perspective of a personified version of Voyager-1 – humankind’s first step in fulfilling our destiny: transcending the Solar System and paving our way to the stars, 24 February 2015 will see their debut album Envoy released through Temple of Torturous Records.
Here. MR’s Jason Guest speaks to guitarist and mind of Below The Sun, Vacuum (his responses having been translated by vocalist Entropy) about – amongst other things – the band and its formation, the album, its narrative, its writing and development, and why they choose to remain anonymous in photos and during live performances…
Thanks for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on Envoy. It’s a very impressive album and an incredible start to 2015. According to the promo material, the band was formed for a one-off intimate festival where you created a funeral doom piece. Was this a written or an improvised piece?
To some degree, yes. There was a death/doom band a couple of us played in, Late-Night Visitor it was called. We were supposed to participate in a closed jam session out in the woods, but not all of the band members were in town that day. So, we decided to jam on a song concept we had, just for fun. We slowed it down, stretched it out as far as we could, taking inspiration in funeral doom and drone. We rehearsed it maybe one or two times, and took the show live. Initially, we used three guitars and drums. No bass. We wanted to go without vocals too, but our friend Foltath Eternum offered his services to improvise the vocals live. I didn’t even tell the other musicians they would participate until right before the show. You can find the results on a video in YouTube. We thought it worked pretty well and decided to do a whole band out of it.
What it was that drew you together to make music? Do you know each other from other bands? Had any or all of you played together before?
Yes, the music scene is quite small in our town, everyone knows each other. In my case, I know the guys from way back – we’re best buds with the other guitarist since first grade. I find this to be very important for a band, for creativity – because of the trust and reliability. I think actual professionalism comes second to this.
What was it about that initial performance that made you decide to continue making music together?
We liked the audience’s reaction. No one was expecting us. It was quite a lively audience all day, but everyone went silent during our set, so utterly shocked and amazed they were. Our peers’ feedback was also very positive. We like this reaction, and decided to stick with the idea.
Why choose the name Below The Sun? What does the name signify for the band and its music?
It signifies the humanity’s place in the, and all what happens to it. The name honors our diminutive world in the middle of the vast cosmic ocean, from which we stare into the starlit sky, not knowing if we shall ever brave it or dissolve in it.
The band is from Krasnoyarsk; its landscape was once described by Chekhov as the most beautiful city in Siberia. Some bands have cited the landscape as directly influential on their music. Has Krasnoyarsk and its landscape had an impact on the band and its music?
Without argument, it is a beautiful place. I am sure you would be stunned by the magnificence of Siberia if you ever visit… but we live here since our birth, so we are used to it. Besides the place where you live, many things influence a musician: state of mind, family, emotions, education… So, it is an influence, but definitely not a fundamental one, it is just a small part of it.
The album’s narrative is told from “the perspective of a personified version of Voyager-1 – humankind’s first step in fulfilling our destiny – transcending the Solar system and paving out way to the stars”. What drew you to this idea for the album?
We were always inspired by the cosmos, our attempts to understand it, to wrap our minds around its size. People see starships in movies, that take fractions of a second to travel to the other side of a galaxy, but it does not work like this. Our perceptions are skewed by sci-fi films and series. We wanted to approach the subject matter in a whole other way: to view it from the perspective of a real life spaceship, specifically, the first one to break out of the Solar System. It took decades, and it’ll take far more for it to reach even the closest star. What would such a voyage look like? What would Voyager tell us of it? In our album, Voyager is alive; it shapes the narrative with its sentience.
How do you approach composition for the album? Did the concept and the narrative inform the writing and the structuring of the album?
We had the music down long before the Voyager concept. Well, before we were able to explicitly express it, anyway. You know how you and several other people have a feeling, an understanding of what is going on without being actually able to put it in words? You just… feel it. We were focusing a lot on the music, and when the time came to talk about it, to definite it, it just came to us in one evening. Suddenly, we knew what this was all about, which songs belonged where and what we should call them. It came naturally, it felt very real.
How long were you working on the album?
We had our first lineup change right after the debut. The drummer did not want to explore this idea further. We found another one, and we took an old friend in to play bass. We spent a lot of time going between studios, trying to find a common wave. At times, we were close to calling it quits. In the beginning of 2013, we found a good place to rehearse, started working on new stuff, wrote a couple of songs. Not all survive to this date, as we are strict about quality. We started recording in 2014, and by summer, we already had a label. So, we spent a year to write the music and three months to record it.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted it to sound? Or did each of the tracks and the whole thing take shape as it was being developed?
We wanted to play funeral doom, just like in the first song we penned. But we like very different music, ranging from extreme metal sub-genres to ethnic and electronic music. I’m a die-hard Korn fan, for fuck’s sake! So, with no specific plans, we decided to loosen up our creative boundaries a bit. We would jam whatever comes to mind – “Cries of Dying Stars” and “Earth” were born that way, and they sound so organic primarily because of the unbiased approach. In the end, I would say we use funeral doom and sludge as a canvas for the music – that is the basis of our music.
The artwork for the album is very intriguing. Can you tell us about the artwork, what it represents, and how it relates to the music?
Can’t really “tell”, honestly. I can give it a shot. The face gazes into the space above. The emptiness around is what we don’t know, and the stars on the face are what we already discovered. Does it make any sense to you?
Who’s the artist? Why did you choose to work with them? And how much direction did you give in its design?
That would be Christopher Duis, whom the label introduced to us. He’s a very nice and communicative fellow, we quickly connected. We talked about what our album was about, showed him our music, and he came up with the current design. It was ideal, we all were very happy with it. You just don’t see talent like that every day, we are extremely grateful for what he did for us!
How does the band write? Is there one main writer, do you jam ideas out in rehearsal, or do you discuss and plan your music?
We get together; we jam and discuss the results together. However, I’m the one keeping an eye on the big picture and deciding what gets in and what does not. Having several contributors is wonderful to come up with fresh ideas, but you need one decision maker to keep it all concise and focused.
What does the act of making music mean to Below The Sun?
We enjoy playing and writing music live – no click tracks, no nothing. It is of utmost importance for the musicians to feel each other. All these subtle tempo shifts, dynamics, instruments complementing each other give a beautiful coherent soundscape, that breathes and lives, that reflects the here and now. If there is one regret I have about this album is that we didn’t record it live and went with a modern track-by-track approach. Perfection is beautiful, but imperfection can be even more beautiful.
The band has chosen to remain anonymous in photos and during live performances because you believe it brings you closer to your audience. Your music has a very different feel to it, one almost of transcendence and transformation. Do you think that music, something intangible, has the power to move humanity into higher planes of being and consciousness?
Music is a method of information transmission between the musicians and the audience. The listener and the observer affect the outcome. We deliver an image, a worldview, and it clashes with dudes playing music in t-shirts and jeans, with people in general even. We want our audience to focus on the music and emotions it expresses, not us. We’re just vessels, the carriers of the message.
How did you come to work with Temple of Torturous? And do you plan to stay with them for future releases?
ToT found us. We put one of our songs (‘Cries of Dying Stars’) with a simple visualization on YouTube, as a promo to our album. Seattle-based music blog No Clean Singing featured us, and the label saw us there. The offer was unbelievably good, but what really sold it was ToT’s sincere interest in our music – always a pleasure to work with someone invested. We really hope to continue working with him.
What does the future hold for the band? Early days I know as the album is yet to be released, but is there more music in the pipeline?
New songs are coming along. We seem to have a solid vector, and we’re all moving in one direction. If you want me to come up with a number, I would say 0.65. That’s the fraction of the new album we have complete right now. If all goes according to plan, we should have a single ready by autumn.
Any gigs or tours planned? And will we be seeing you in England any time soon?
We’re touring a couple of Siberian cities in March. In May, we’ll pave our way to Moscow, playing shows along the Trans-Siberian railway. Touring can get tricky in Russia, because of the distances you have to cover. Not as bad as space travel, though, I guess. We would love playing in Europe, but we’re only establishing connections with promoters there. Putting this show on the road is and always has been our main priority, so if any reader has any serious offers – drop us a line, you can count on our interest!
What would be the ideal setting for a Below The Sun performance?
Visuals are very important. It’s one of our main areas of improvement, as a matter of fact. Ideally, we would like to have our own sound and light guys, so that they can help us with our live image. Having our own equipment and means to haul it around would be cool, but… baby-steps, right? Travelling the world with our show is our dream, and we’ll do all we can to make it happen.
Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
Thank you, Jason! We would like to ask our listeners to forget everything they know about genres and approach our album with an open mind. Great thanks to all who’ll listen – spread the word and let us know what you think about our music!
- Below The Sun on Facebook
- Temple of Torturous website
- Temple of Torturous on Facebook
- Temple of Torturous on Bandcamp