Interview with Abstracter (They Don’t Like Band Pictures)

Here we are again autocrats and plebes (you should just leave if that’s you), it’s time for another awesome interview.  Why are they awesome?  Because they are here, on this site?  Wrong, they are awesome because we only interview bands we think deserve it, or, well, sometimes bands we think deserve it who also finish answering are damn emails Christ come on.  We just won’t talk about those bands right now, because this band here, yeah, emails answered.  Succinctly and thoroughly, as well, which is how we like it, because nothing’s worse than trying to pull teeth from a corpse that doesn’t even have a jaw.  Abstracter we were quite exciting to speak with because we have some interesting experiences with them in PM, via email, and two reviews.  The first one, well, we thought they had that certain something, but it needed a little pep, throw some juice into that diabetic, get them going.  And thus it was done with their newest release, all of which we discuss here with their vocalist, Mattia Alagna.  So get reading.

Deaf Sparrow – Okay, basic time, like usual, here we go.  So how did you guys start as a band? Prior experience in music? Influences if you don’t mind mentioning any?

unnamedMattia – Robin (guitar) and me (vocals) started the band back in 2010 we met though Craigslist and connected due to our shared love of Godflesh. Initially it was hard for us to find people to play with as we were quite unsure on what to do. We just wanted to play heavy, angry, and dark music in the vein of Godflesh, Dystopia, Corrupted and Iron Monkey, but a direction was hard to figure out initially, due to lack of experience, decent gear, and general beginner cluelessness. Initially we just started out as a noise/drone duo of heavily effected vocals and droney guitars, then a friend of ours (Jose, our first bassist) and our first drummer Mark, maybe feeling bad for us, jumped in helped us shape the initial incarnation of the band. The rhythm section has changed a bit since inception, but since 2013 the band’s lineup has been quite solid with Emad on drums and Donovan on bass. I played in some hardcore bands back in Italy where I am from, and Robin in some rock bands in college, but overall both for me and him this is the very first accomplished project we are a part of. Emad and Donovan have played and currently play in other bands and have done so for many years now. Our sound has changed over the years and continues to evolve but constant key influences of ours as mentioned are bands like Godflesh, Dystopia, Corrupted and Iron Monkey, but also Amebix, His Hero Is gone, Beherit, Darkthrone, Black Sabbath, Killing Joke, Grief, Emperor and Disembowelment.

DS – Pretty hefty influence list there.  Sometimes people have actually gotten angry when I asked it because they thought it “wasn’t relevant.”  And now the next question I always enjoy, the name, what’s the origin? ‘Abstracter’ is quite distinct and seems to symbolize how you approach music in general, which we’ll get to, but where did it come from?

M – It is a not so direct/obvious way of expressing the concept of “disintegration” or of existence evaporating, becoming nothing but a figment in one’s imagination. Loss of everything, pulverization of one’s reality and world. Transformation into nothing but a distant and faded memory. That’s what our music has always been about at various degrees of realism: collapse and total ruin, hence the name.

DS – Ha, that’s a lot more thought than I’m used to hearing.  Typically someone will say “we looked at this magazine and that was an article title,” but you guys are thinking.  Thinking is good.  So what’s your general direction for your music? We first were introduced to you guys via Tomb of Feathers, which we liked somewhat but had some complaints about. Did you have any work before that that hasn’t been released like demos or anything, especially some of that early work you mentioned?

M – There is nothing before Tomb of Feathers. “Ash” is the first song we ever finished and decided to record. There was one song partially written before that one and other scattered riffs and ideas but it all died in the womb and will probably never come back. Our direction is unknown, things are constantly changing, our influences change every day. We don’t listen to the same music we used to in 2010 when we started. Things change. We don’t know where we’ll end up, but that’s not important, what counts is that we craft music that represents us and our imagination.

DS – Probably the most realistic approach to metal I’ve ever heard, a willingness to change and adapt.  Now back to your first album. You guys have a foundation in black metal, but you branch out quite a bit, which is refreshing in this modern age of redundancy. First two tracks, awesome, but that last one… When I listened to “Ash” I perceived it as though it were recorded in an entirely different setting, it almost sounded like someone else produced it. Just curious if I was right in that respect, was the third track from something else entirely and thrown in there for more length? Any mistakes in production perhaps?

M – No, it was recorded with the other two and by the same people. As I said “Ash” was the first track we ever wrote and half the band that recorded that song (and the whole record) isn’t even part of the band any longer. Recording Tomb of Feathers was a labor of love and a huge learning experience. It was hard and cumbersome to record such long songs with such little experience as we had. We knew nothing about tracking and mixing and were totally unprepared. But we never even realized that we were actually recording something that would get released and that people would hear. That was never the intent. Many takes were done, and many things should have been redone but we ran out of budget and were forced to settle with the best we had, which was not the ideal best. Recording a 16 minute epic when you are so unexperienced and clueless as we were back then can be a great challenge and I agree with you, it shows that we got challenged and in some parts did not make listener-friendly and or wise decisions. We haven’t played that song live since at least 2012, that should give you an idea on our opinion about that song. We were dreaming big back then and wanted to write an epic doom metal song in the vein of how Corrupted and Asunder used to do. Maybe we failed. But on the other hand, I think you can hear a band that is not scared, and that is trying to find its way. Maybe the song is too long and drained out but there are some awesome riffs that I still love in it. Overall, to this day, Robin and I (the only two left in the band that recorded Tomb of Feathers) are still proud of that song, and we see it as an important part of our first recorded manifestation as a band.

DS – So how did you get set up with The Path Less Traveled for your release of Tomb of Feathers, considering that you didn’t really think it would be release or even intend it to happen? We’ve covered some of their stuff before, such as Flourishing. It’s pretty impressive to snag any sort of record deal with 0 background before your first release.

M – The Path Less Traveled Records had released quite a few great albums, a couple of which I have particularly adored, namely by the bands Flourishing and Epistasis, so I was very familiar with the label’s work. They have released almost every heavy genre you can think of and are a very open minded label, so I thought maybe they’d like to hear what we had done. I sent Sean (the owner) the album, he liked it and the rest came on its own. We’re pretty good pals now, we have great respect for what he has done.

DS –  Well it clearly led to good places because the new one completely changed my thoughts about your approach.  Just an awesome album, and that brings the discussion to Wound Empire, leagues beyond Tomb of Feathers. What was the process in creation there? Did you receive criticism concerning your first release from other folks and take it into consideration or did you simply develop as a band by the time of your next one? Any differences in your approach this time around?

M – Tomb of Feathers was actually generally really well received to our complete amazement. That’s what actually made us think “maybe we should take this band thing a little bit further and see what happens,” and made us realize that maybe we had something to say that people would enjoy hearing. I think people have said that Tomb of Feathers was good but that Wound Empire is better, and we also agree with that. With Wound Empire everything was a step up. After 3 years from recording Tomb of Feathers, we had more shows and experience under our belt. Better gear, better songwriting, more experience and stronger intents had come into place. The main difference was the solidity of the rhythm section. Both Emad and Donovan had been playing for years, those guys musically were solid as fuck even before we knew them. Emad brought in tight and fluid death-metal influenced drumming (his background), double bass, and really confident and creative drumming that made everything kind of elevate to the next level. Also when we chose where, with who and how to record, we knew exactly what we wanted and went with it. Wound Empire shows more of a band that knows what they are going for rather than a band that is just trying to see what they can pull off and hope for the best, like Tomb of Feathers was.

DS – For sure.  I mean, it’s clear you guys got some serious press from the new one.  I even noticed you recently were included in a comp by CVLT Nation. Though we hate the V word around Sparrow parts, that’s some sick press for you guys. How did that come about? Just curious how you guys got involved in a remix session of Amebix, seems quite unusual considering your work.  I know you mentioned them as an influence.

M – Amebix is personally my favorite band of all time. A band that has literally shaped who I am as a person. Aside from the almost desperate love I have for their music, their lyrics and artwork have influenced me on a vast scale. Since I try to participate as much as possible in Abstracter’s writing process, inevitably, Amebix comes in and shapes our sound. CVLT Nation has been amazing to us and covered our music before. They do these awesome covers series where contemporary underground bands cover their favorite punk and metal bands of the past, and so when their new project came up they asked us if we wanted to participate and to the news that we would have been called in to cover an Amebix song, we literally shit our selves. Or at least I did. We were asked to cover Black Sabbath previously but it did not work out for scheduling problems.

DS – So how about your current label relationship with the creation of Wound Empire. Thoughts? How did it come about? It’s clearly to your advantage, I mean you guys are all over the place now.  First this Amebix comp, and next the universe?

M – All the labels we worked with for Wound Empire are either close friends of the band (Shove and 7 Degress had worked with us in the past already) or labels that we as a band believed would embrace our cause and be willing to work with us. Vendetta has released albums by Sutekh Hexen, Fell Voices and Ash Borer just to name a few, all great bands that we admire, so that was a no brainer to ask them if they wanted to participate. Fragile Branch is a great american label that deals with the dark and the obscure. Their releases are unpredictable and they deal in seriously dark and ominous stuff, so they were definitely an appealing choice. An Out Recordings released the tape with our own label Sentient Ruin. They are a woman-led, feminist, queer, pro-animal rights, and anti-fascist label, who’s released tapes for some seriously incredible bands like Hexis and Unru, so that was another no brainer to ask Anna if she wanted to do the tape with us. COF Records (formerly Church Ov Fuck) released the CD for us. They are affiliated with the band Caina, and they also have released some seriously high-grade bands like Caina of course, but also Old Skin, Esoteric Youth, Cease to Exist and more. We asked them too, they were into it and here we are, with all these great labels. Working with many labels in reality is a mixed bag and has its pros and cons. While “our” labels were all impeccable and serious as fuck, there were endless email chains with 6 different people going on at once and it took a lot of planning and coordinating to get everyone on the same schedule. Overall though, we could not be happier about working with all these wonderful people!

DS –  That’s awesome, nothing beats forward thinking in metal, too many bands think behind.  But I’m curious to hear how you guys fit in where you are.  What’s your scene like and how are you guys taken? I noticed you tend to stay within your general area, any plans on touring elsewhere in the US or the world?

M – The Bay Area metal and punk scene is notorious for being strong, thriving and full of talent. Oakland is where everyone who doesn’t want to deal with the glamorous hype of San Francisco life ends up, so inevitably lots of punks and people who are fed up with shit congregate here. The result usually translates to bands that are angry, heavy and have strong artistic intents. We love Oakland and our fellow bands. Many bands here inspire us and we are grateful and humbled to know them and be a part of the same scene that they contributed to create and lead. Some bands have an unstoppable “pull” towards the road. We really don’t. We’ll go when we feel we’ve cut our teeth locally more first and recorded more music and gained more experience. We also have weird work schedules, some of us play in other bands etc, so logistics also fall into place. We feel like we’re closer and closer to hitting the road though. We get invited, which is humbling, I think people in different cities and places would dig what we do. I think a North West short run is now inevitable for us and hopefully will happen within the year. We go on tour in Europe in 2016, and we’ll keep playing locally when we fee like it. No pressures, just trying to figure out what is best for us as we go. While I have no desire to live in a van on the road like many bands do, I do feel like touring with a band is an experience currently missing from my life that I really want to check off my life list.

DS – You guys have also played with a number of pretty well-known bands, just scoping some of the flyers on your Facebook page. Just curious do you have any interesting stories concerning shows, any bad experiences you don’t mind talking about, stuff like that?

M – Well you know, some shows are always gone be good and other will be bad, it’s just the way it goes. One instance I recall was playing a venue in Oakland that had the kitchen behind the stage. There was a door behind the stage that lead into the kitchen that of course had been permanently sealed. Well while we were playing, I guess the volume or vibrations of the stage, or I don’t know what, blew the kitchen door open behind us while we were in the middle of our set. So here we are playing our set with a fat dude flipping burgers on the grill right behind us. It was pretty surreal.

DS – Hahaha, surreal, meaty, something like that.  How about current material, you guys working on anything new? What kind of plans do you have in Abstracter’s future as far as upcoming releases goes?

M – Yes, we’re always working on something. We have the studio booked for the beginning of September to record two songs for a 12” split with Canada, Montreal- based blackened hardcore band Dark Circles. These two songs are yet another leap in a different direction for us and don’t sound much like anything that appeared in Wound Empire, so we strongly encourage everyone to look out for this release, especially cause Dark Circles are one of the best hardcore bands around these days. This split LP will be out at the end of the year on Sick Man Getting Sick Records from Germany and Replenish Records from Washington DC. Soon we will also commence work on writing our side of another 12” split this time with Arizona-based funeral doom band Funerary, which will be released next year by Vendetta Records. After that it is possible that we’ll do a split with Oregon-based one man black metal/noise band Rotting Sky, a project by Tim Messing of the band Nux Vomica. We are yet to settle on this and figure out a release plan, but Tim told us he’d love to do it with us. We’ll also, of course, write and record another full-length as soon as possible. We’re also set to play Southwest Terror Fest in Tucson Arizona in October with Sleep, Thou,and The Body among others and tour Europe in April of 2016. Hopefully we’ll also be able to do a Northwest run before that.

DS – Man, you guys are busy busy busy!  Impressive.  It should really turn out incredibly well for you, can’t wait to hear the new material.  Well, thanks again for all the awesome answers, it’s been fun, and enlightening.

M – Thanks so much for the support!


Interview Conducted by Stanley Stepanic