Jesse Raub, the reviewer you love to hate, recently chatted back and forth with Aaron and Nat of Alternative Tentacles Bonecrushers Akimbo. The three of them talked about their two upcoming albums, as well as the issue of spontaneous combustion amongst guitarists.
For those unfamiliar with the band, it's best to check out the reviews here or take it from the band: "Usually I just say we're really loud and leave it at that."
You guys were just in Louisville recording with Chris from Lords, right? Did you want to switch up your recording routine now that Aaron's in the band, or was this just an opportunity you would have taken regardless?
Nat: Yeah, we just did a tour down to SXSW and stopped in Louisville to record with Chris. We decided to record with Chris because he's a great engineer with a killer room and it was the best bang for our buck. It wasn't really based on Aaron being new in the band, it was just a good opportunity. Studios in Seattle/the NW are pretty expensive. We probably would have gotten a week in one of those for the budget we had. Personally, I was interested in recording the the two albums outside of our element and away from home. That way we were totally immersed in the process and didn't have much to do besides record and drink beer. It was also nice to do it mid-tour because we were tighter as a band.
I wanna rock.
Aaron: To answer your question: I can't speak to the issue of whether our last recording was terribly different from previous efforts -- I wasn't there for them. There are a few differences of which I'm aware, however. It's the first time the band has made a record entirely in the digital realm. This provided the opportunity to take advantage of editing capabilities, punching flexibility, etc. that expedited the process of recording the best takes from all of us. It was a conscious effort, at least on my part, to avoid the sterility that can result from this type of control. Rather than laying down squeaky clean (read: ballsless) tracks, for my part, I often tended to favor more energetic, perhaps mildly mistake ridden tracks.
As far as I know, the dudes had been wanting to do a record with Chris for quite a while, and this tour made it possible. I admit I was dubious at first, 'cause we've got great rooms in Seattle and I was looking forward to being in one of them. But he has an awesome sounding live room (huge drum sounds) and a few great mics and preamps and such (great guitar and vocal sounds) and he really knows what he's doing. So, I was stoked with how it went and how it came out.
Some of your other recordings have been recorded "live in the studio." did you continue with this or did you go for something a bit more polished?
Nat: I don't think polished is what were going for. We were aiming more a mixture of an organic, big, live sound with the clarity and crispy sound of a few choice rock albums. We have had the pleasure of recording in some pretty amazing places for previous records. Harshing Your Mellow was recorded at Uptone in Tacoma, WA by Wes Weresch. We tracked live, it was our first time recording really so we were still learning the process. That studio was awesome, some great records came out of there like the last C Average and Enemymine albums. Next we did Elephantine at the old Paradox Theatre in Seattle. Drums were tracked in the main room (it was fucking huge and sounded great) and the basic bass and guitar tracks were done live. Then there were overdubs and vocals after that. we recoreded elpehantine to 1 inch tape, it was recored by joel brown who is a great guy and killer engineer. The next record, City of the Stars was recorded at Chroma sound by Zack Reinig.
We tracked live together in the main room to 2 inch tape and bumped it down to quarter inch after overdubs and vocals. we had some communication issues and I'm not really satisfied with the way the album came out. It is what it is though. Chroma is a cool studio and Zack is a great engineer, I just think the environment didn't suit the sound we were going for. We wanted to do COTS with Joel again but the scheduling didn't work out. we mixed that at Avast but weren't happy with it so we had to remix at another studio. After COTS was Forging Steel and Laying Stone. That was recorded at Ironwood Studios, also known as Avast II. Its an amazing studio and we recorded in the main room to 2 inch tape. It was very conducive to getting that big drum sound that I love and we worked with Joel Brown again so we were in good hands. For FSLS, like the records we did in the past, we recorded live with basic guitar and bass. The next album Navigating The Bronze, which we just recorded comes out August 21st on Alternative Tentacles. We recorded it digitally with Chris Owens of Lords at Headbang and Kill Your Mama studios in Louisville, KY. We actually recorded two albums, the other is called Jersey Shores and it'll come out sometime in 2008 hopefully. We did drums first with bass scratch tracks, then we overdubbed bass, guitars and vocals. Some shit hit the fan early on in this session, the hard drive that we had just recorded all of the drums to fucking died so I had to re-record all of the drums. We lost 8 days of tracking, we were fucking pissed. I re-recorded all of those tracks in two days. We are SUPER stoked on how the albums came out. I'm very happy with the drum sounds, Chris has a great ear and my kit sounds bad ass. We sort of went for an In Utero drum sound. I don't think we'll go back to digital though. After recording drums bass and guitar separately, I could go back to that or track live. Whatever works best for the situation.
What's it like recording an album that you know is going to be put out on Alternative Tentacles?
Aaron: Its being on AT didn't affect the recording, I don't think. It's a great label though. Jello and the staff are very generous, kind people, and it's great to be associated with them. They're the kind of people you want handling your art or whatever, you know? And I guess it is fairly cool to have your stuff right next to all the other stuff in their catalog. Pretty cool.
We have always considered vocals to be like icing on the cake, that's why they are not very high in the mix.
Two new albums means that you've recorded six albums in just as many years. Are you guys afraid of burning out early after being this prolific?
Nat: This coming October 31st is our ten year anniversary. We like keeping busy, I think its healthy to write a record every year. I'm not afraid of burning out, its refreshing to write and I feel that with each record we're consistently growing as a band. Plus, writing albums with different people (although not really by choice) has kept us on our toes and keeps us fresh. We are super happy with Aaron in the band and we don't see any line-up changes in the future.
Jesse (to Aaron): How does it feel joining a band that's been around for nine years and whose guitarists usually suffer from Spinal Tap Drummer Syndrome?
Aaron: I'm the 11th dude to play guitar in Akimbo. I wasn't aware of their history when I approached them. I came to see one of their local shows with a good friend of mine whose musical taste I've always trusted (we'd been in several bands together since high school.) We both agreed that I'd be a perfect fit for the band.
Since then, assimilation's been pretty much painless. Burke (Akimbo's main guitarist for the last 4 albums and six years) was extremely cool and helpful. Fans' responses have been really positive too, which is really gratifying. There were, and still are, some pretty big shoes to fill. It's been a bit of a struggle to find a happy medium between my own style of playing and what's been historically "right" for Akimbo.
I've taken a few liberties here and there with some old songs, but the main goal there has been to take the best of two guitar parts and make it sound as rad as possible. The new album was a bit of a mindfuck though. I found myself doing a lot of second guessing in the writing and recording process. But the dudes (Jon, Nat, Chris) were really reassuring, and I think we're all really happy with my musical contribution and the way things have changed.
Anyway… I've never spontaneously combusted before… We'll see. I'm curious to see how everyone likes the new shit… But I'm planning on sticking around.
Are these albums going to sound like two sides of a double album, or did you go into recording both with a different idea for each?
Nat: The two records will sound quite different from one another. Jersey Shores was originally going to be an concept EP. Jon's concept centers around a string of shark attacks that occurred in the NE in 1916. Since it clocked in at 45 minutes with the 5 songs we consider it to be a full length. Navigating the Bronze is ten songs and clocks in at about the same time. While the albums were both recorded in the same session, we tweaked sounds and used different snare drums and cymbals to make each record unique. They were both mastered at RFI but in different sessions.
That's pretty intense. The last concept I can trace are the three songs about the Megalodon on "Elephantine" and some ideas surrounding "City of the Stars." "Harshing Your Mellow" was a pretty straight forward hardcore release, but your albums keep showing your metal influence more and more. Does the idea of a concept record sound more appealing the more you let your metal side show?
Nat: I don't really feel that our record progress in a "metal" direction. Perhaps its the roots of metal, (i.e. classic fucking rock) that you are talking about. I don't listen to metal really except for the occasional gander at what's on the radio. I consider Akimbo to be a rock band. Labeling us as hardcore, metal, or screamo (I fucking hate that one…) never really seemed to do it for me.
Themes like the Megaladon or Tycho Brahe were usually under the surface and not very prominent, at least in regards to song writing. They were lyrical themes. we enjoy heavy imagery, big and mythical things, things that compliment the music. With Jersey Shores, there is a lot of space in the record, more ambient sections. It is written around the topic of the shark attacks in the song writing department as well as lyrically. This is more of a Jon question though, it was his idea. Jersey Shores is more experimental and off the beaten path for us I think. We have always considered vocals to be like icing on the cake, that's why they are not very high in the mix. With Navigating the Bronze as well as Jersey Shores, Jon did some amazing vocals. There is less straight forward screaming and more screaming notes that compliment what the rest of the band is doing.
A band is good or bad or you like them or don't. Just leave it at that.
I guess metal is subjective word; when most people describe your band they reference Black Sabbath and Black Flag. Do you ever feel pigeonholed by critics?
Nat: I don't usually feel pigeonholed. I'm pretty sure we came up with the whole "sounds like Black Sabbath meets Black Flag" comparison. It was just an easy way to explain what we sound like to people who don't have a clue. It's the whole, metal/hardcore/screamo/crap that is just irritating. I don't think its that important, a band is good or bad or you like them or don't. Just leave it at that. Usually I just say we're really loud and leave it at that.
It seems like if you're not recording, you're touring. Do you do your writing on the road?
Nat: Traditionally we write at home. For NTB and Jersey Shores we actually did a bit of writing in the studio. It wasn't a conscious decision to do that though, it was more like we were coming down to the wire and needed to leave for tour. The process was interesting and I'm happy with how writing in the studio so far from home worked out in the end.
Was it intimidating recording two albums at the same time?
Aaron: The only source of concern was that it might not get done in time. We had a total of 15 songs to record, and when we got to the studio, something like 11 or 12 had been written. We didn't proceed as though we were doing two different albums, though. We just did everything at once, as if we were doing a 15 song record.
Jon and I flew back to Seattle in the middle of the session to visit our girlfriends. When I got back, I had to record guitar parts for two songs I'd never heard before. They might've turned out a little better if I'd had more time to write. My head wasn't really in it at that time though, 'cause my grandfather had just passed away and I was having problems with the lady. I'm not telling which two songs those are.
Do you see yourself still playing with Akimbo in ten years?
Nat: Ha, I have no idea. That's a long time from now. Ten years ago I didn't think I'd be where I am now.
Well, I figured, ten more years! Ten more years! Sort of like an elected position. All right, that's dumb. Are you waiting to release Jersey Shores until next year so that Navigating the Bronze will have a more focused release, or is it just a label issue?
Nat: Haha…..yeah…..we are waiting to find a label that would be willing to put out Jesrey Shores. It would be bad business to have both albums come out at the same time so it sort of works out. Even if we had a label for JS we would wait to release it. Hopefully it will come out in mid 2008.
What are your aspirations with Akimbo? Where would you like to see the band go?
Aaron: That's a question. Huh. I wanna rock. I want to rock. I've always thought this band deserves to be heard by more people. Being able to make a living off it would be nice. Making the best Akimbo music Akimbo can make is priority numero uno for Akimbo. Where would I like to see the band go? Japan? South America? Hmmm… Europe's always good. Straight to the top of the charts? Halftime at the Superbowl? USO Tikrit '08?
I dunno. It's like the theme of the new album… It's more of a journey thing than a destination thing.