JANUARY 3rd 2018

HOWLING SYCAMORE EXCLUSIVE

 

Metaltitans had the opportunity to talk with Progressive Extreme Metallers "Howling Sycamore". Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.

Interview By: MetalMom

1.  Well, first off, can you tell us about the name for the band Howling Sycamore, I know that a sycamore is a big shade tree, but tell us why you chose to call the band this?

I was always fascinated by the symbolism of the sycamore tree, which had special significance in Egyptian religion and which “bridged the world of the dead and the living” in David Lynch’s cult TV series. Visually the sycamore is particularly striking in winter when it gains a ghost like appeal: the bark turns white and it reflects the moonlight in otherworldly ways. To me sycamore in winter bears not only mystery but also a certain component of solitude and pain, a human-like kind of pain. Hence the idea of a sycamore tree howling and the will to use that image to lyrically set the mood for this band and as title for our debut.

2. You are fairly new, starting in 2016, so a year, give or take, why did you decide to create Howling Sycamore, and why progressive extreme?

Howling Sycamore is a project that started in June 2016 when I was asked to write guitars for the extreme metal band of an acquaintance. The drum parts for the project were already recorded with defined structures and accents. I was used to writing songs starting from guitar ideas, having only drums to rely on forced me to use a completely different point of view when writing my parts.

The material composed pleased both parties but it didn’t really fit with the project it was intended for. I felt that the songs could have grown into a much more ambitious project and I decided to use those guitars to start my own band.

Progressive metal is definitely something that come natural to me: songs with open structures and adventurous arrangements are a very familiar territory to me. I decided to go for an extreme metal drumming approach because I like bold contrasts and because I feel that there are so many interesting paths that can be taken using this formula.

3. Can you tell us how each of the band members came to be in the band?

Reconfiguring the band based on the guitars that I had already written, I thought it was necessary to keep the extreme metal drumming angle but strongly felt that the singing was not supposed to be a screaming or growling style but closer to old school heavy metal.

Having the guitar ready, at first it was a matter of finding the right drummer to lay down solid foundations for the songs. After few weeks of scouting, I approached the amazing Hannes Grossmann to play drums on the album. The first time I saw him in action it was 2003 when Ephel Duath shared the stage with Necrophagist at Brutal Assault Festival in Czech Republic.

When contacted, Grossmann was excited about the project and ready to learn the material. After a few weeks he started recording at his own studio, Mordor Sounds, in Nuremberg, Germany.

Once I got the final drums I wrote the bass parts based on the drums’ feel and re-arranged some of the guitar parts.

Scott Evans (Antisleep Recording, Oakland, CA) had the idea to contact the ex-Watchtower singer Jason McMaster. I saw McMaster in action years before, when Watchtower and Ephel Duath were in the same bill at the 2004 edition of Holland’s Headway Festival. McMaster accepted to sing for the band after listening to a guitar and drums preproduction and recorded his parts at his own home studio.

It took approximately a year to record the voice, re-record guitar and bass and mix the album.

4. You have a new self-titled album coming out through Prosthetic Records, what can we expect to hear on this album, what will make it stand out above others?

Howling Sycamore born from the stubborn will of putting together extreme metal drumming, layered, down-tuned guitars and old school heavy/prog metal singing. With this project I had the chance to put together some of my favorite element in heavy metal music. I believe that the result of this mixture sounds sincere and not forced: that is something that fills me up with pride. It’s not up to me to say if this band stand out above others, but I can assure you that I’m trying my best to create unique sounding songs.  

5. You have 8 tracks on the album, do you personally have a favorite, and why that one if you do...

1. Upended
2. Obstinate Pace
3. Let Fall
4. Intermezzo
5. Midway
6. Chant of Stillness
7. Descent to Light
8. Dysphoria

I particularly like the song “Let Fall”. It is a song of opposites: while groovy melodies pull you up at first, the bleak, introspective lyrics come in to drag you down after.

In the heart of the song, during a Tony Iommi infused riff, the Sycamore tree is summoned with a prayer-like singing, referencing it loud and clear as the guide-like entity that it is for the concept of the band itself. With Jason McMaster crying out my painful awareness of not really fitting in anywhere, it becomes, to me, one of the most intense and dramatic moments of the whole album. Then again the groovy melody comes in to lift your mood back up to where you started.

6. You have some guest appearances as well, by saxophonist Bruce Lamont (Yakuza, Bloodiest), guitarist Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia) and Fester (Burials), what made you decide to have these musicians as guests?

Bruce Lamont did a terrific job playing baritone sax on two songs in the Howling Sycamore debut: “Upended” and “ Obstinate Pace”. On the first song I asked him to make three appearances. I asked him to make the sax scream, hitting high pitched freak outs to create a call and response with Jason McMaster’s parts. On the second song I asked Bruce to do an elegant, smoother solo towards the end of the song, where my guitars go into a layered, somehow uplifting, long mantra.

Scott Evans and I felt that we had some good spots for guitar solos in the songs and I thought to ask to one of the guitar player I respect the most, Kevin Hufnagel, to shred on the song “Upended” and “Midway”. For the first solo, right at the beginning of the song, I asked him to use the whammy bar: I wanted an over the top introduction for the busiest song of the album. The second solo Kevin did is for a more introspective song, this is a much longer appearance  where he was able to capture that wonderful, dissonant mood of early ’90's Death solos.

 The second guest playing guitar solos on the album is a friend of my producer, Scott Evans. Fester is a guitar player and sound engineer from Portland with a passion for dissonance and acrobatic arrangement. He did two noise and blues inspired solos for the song “Let Fall”. The first one launches Jason McMaster’s entrance and the second one colorfully closes the song.

7. How do you decide on what to write as lyrics, and where does that inspiration come from?

Since 2009 my primary source of inspiration for lyrics are shamanism and buddhist concepts filtered through my very own experience and thoughts that I grasp through meditation. I find the process of writing lyrics extremely liberating: it feels like purging out a part of me on paper. I like my vulnerability to be exposed when I write. I like to look inward and spit out my fears and traces of my subconscious using symbolic and very graphic images. Here is an example, from the opening song “Upended”:

I’m surrounded by ancient memories

Chocked by all the time I let slip away from me

My mouth forced open at the hourglass’ bottom

While my feet nervously dig this soil

Stepping on lessons unlearned

In a horrifying spiral of power

That gets stronger the weaker I get

Here is another one, from the song “Midway”:

Let me live again my tortures one by one

Till the thought of them will leave me cold

Sing to me the chant of purging

Till my fears will fall like rain

Show me the mountain I walked away from

Bring me in the forest I'm scared of

Chop my fingers and leave me there

8. Does it take a long time to create the lyrics?

I spend a good amount of time writing lyrics, sometime the process takes longer than writing the music itself. I love to write while in nature: in the forest or at the ocean. I push myself to find the words that best express my ideas but also sound the most raw and obscure. I usually start the process of writing lyrics right after having the music done and to write I listen to bands like Warduna or Om to get into an alerted meditative state.

9. After you have written a song, do you have anyone that comes in and listens to see if it is what the band wants, or you just know it's right?

Apart from the people involved in the production and the recording of my albums, no one external to the band, or any band I’ve been involved with, has a say about what the band should want or not want.

10. Something I have never asked a band, but when you create your album, does the label have to listen to it, approve it or you have your own free reign over it?

Throughout my career I’ve been working with quite a few labels and all of them left me complete control over my music and my album’s direction, even for the ones that were drastic departures from the album before. I would not accept any other conditions: complete artistic freedom is an absolute necessity to me.

11. Was it a long process from writing to having it finally done on CD?

Yes, I would say so. The whole process took approximately a year and half.

12. Do the other band members create their own music, guitarist the riffs, drummer the drum beats or is it all done by one person, and the others learn it?

Each band member created their own parts. I wrote the lyrics for Jason McMaster and suggested the general direction for the drums, aside from that each member had complete freedom to musically express themselves as they please.

13. Love the cover artwork, who designed it?

Howling Sycamore debut’s artwork and layout is by Dehn Sora (aka Vincent Petitjean), a visionary artist, art director and composer based in Paris, France.

Dehn Sora did some graphic work for some of the most respected and forward thinking bands in the metal scene, acts like Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, Amenra, Ulver and Church of Ra.

It was 2012 when I got introduced to Dehn Sora’s work, immediately felt a strong bond with the poetic darkness of his creations. Since then we had the chance of working together on two album’s artwork for my band Ephel Duath (“On Death and Cosmos” and “Hemmed by Light, Shaped by Darkness”).

When I contacted Dehn Sora to work on Howling Sycamore I already had clear in mind the concept for the cover and I did a pretty specific sketch for him. I simply told him “this is what I had in mind, could you add your magic to it?”. As references for the front image's textures and tones I gave him some images created by Travis Smith for Opeth.

After a few weeks I received the final cover artwork. The result perfectly captured what I had in mind: Dehn Sora brought to life a simple sketch I did on a note book and he was able to make that image his own.

The concept for the album artwork is pretty personal and it's based on some meditation techniques I use. In the picture six cloaked figures gathers around a silver Sycamore tree. The tree is oozing black liquid which feeds a strained dog.

The cloaked figures represent six spirit guides, each of them connected with a chakra. From left to right we have respectively the spirit guide linked with the third eye chakra, the throat, the heart, the solar plexus, the sacrum and the root. The tree itself represent the crown chakra which ooze awareness (the black liquid) which feeds the strained dog (myself).

Each spirit guide radiates a different color from the top of the cloak, the same color I perceive them being made of during meditation. Each spirit guide holds an object that symbolizes a specific virtue I should keep working on in order to feel one with myself.

14. Do you have a tour planned after the release, and if so, can you give us any details of where or when?

I got a rehearsal studio for Howling Sycamore, bought some new equipment and I’m currently putting together a live line up in order to play shows. My goal is to start around spring/summer 2018.

15. If you were not in the music industry, what would we find you doing?

When I was a kid I wanted to be an architect, I wanted to project houses. Sometime I wish I had pursued that career but truth is that at a certain point in my life music took over pretty much everything, including my studies.

16. Christmas is almost upon us, do you have plans?

I’ll go to lunch with some friends that, like me, don’t have any family here in the US.

17. Do you remember the best Christmas gift ever?

I love to give presents, I’m not that much into receiving them. Probably for this reason, I don’t remember a single Christmas present worth mentioning in here. Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas. I like its color, the expectation and excitement that it gives to kids, I like the big dinners preparation, even the frenetic, last minute shopping amuses me but I kind of see all that from an external point of view. I don’t really feel part of this massive celebration, I never really did, at the same time I enjoy seeing people genuinely happy about Christmas. 

18. Sorry, just had to ask a couple of Christmas questions there, is there anything you would like to add to this interview, that I might have missed asking?

I’m currently writing Howling Sycamores’ second album. I plan to start the recordings by the end of 2018. I already have a lot of material that I composed starting with the guitar, I’ll add some other songs composed on pre existing drums, like we did on the debut. We will work on that during the upcoming spring. I foresee the album going towards a more prog/experimental/polyrhythmic direction.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with us here at Metaltitans, and we wish you great success with your self-titled album Howling Sycamore.  Also wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

Thank you so much for the support!!

Davide

Preorders for the album are available here:

http://smarturl.it/howlingsycamore
https://www.facebook.com/howlingsycamore/