Friday, August 23, 2013

…Dark moods and bad vibes: Interview with Chad Remains of UZALA

Uzala’s self-titled debut was one of the highlights among the many stellar releases of 2012. Their atmospheric, downtrodden blend of doom, psychedelia, and noise carved out a niche all its own. Further separating Uzala from the pack are the haunting, seraphic vocals of Darcy Nutt who yielded an ethereal quality to six of the album’s eight tracks. The band is about to unleash ‘Tales of Blood & Fire’, the follow-up to their impressive debut. Guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Chad Remains was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule to shed some light on the status of the band and the highly anticipated forthcoming album.
SM - 2012 was a killer year for doom metal and other like-minded genres and reigning at the top of my year end list was your self-titled debut which still gets spun on the regular. I tried to turn others on to Uzala and I found that the hazy, muddy production tended to polarize listeners. Personally, I found that the production enhanced the album and added atmosphere and really emphasized Darcy’s vocals. Is there going to be a noticeable shift production-wise like there was on the split that you recorded with Mala Suerte on ‘Tales of Blood & Fire’?
 CR - The LP got mastered for the AWWFN release in a dark manner. It will be reissued by King of the Monsters Records later this year with Mell Dettmer mastering as well as a bonus 12" single with Cataract and Death Masque included. Essentially the entire Blake Green produced Visual Arts Collective sessions will be available in one vinyl package. Tony Roberts will be doing the LP layout/design this time and there will be slightly different photos/art, etc. It will be a deluxe release, as are all King of the Monsters releases.
Tales of Blood & Fire is different in many ways. Darcy and I wrote everything on this one, for example, and also we had a different vision for how to make the guitars sound. The drums are heavier for two reasons. One, Chuck Watkins was raised on raw meat and punk and metal. Two, Tad Doyle is a drummer and I'm pretty sure he built his entire studio to emphasize heavy drumming. The first record was made in a very big concert venue so there is more space and ambient sounds in the whole thing. Which I feel was perfect for that session. The atmosphere of the session was hazy and the record is too. It's great that Blake could capture the feeling that we were still trying to figure out how to make those songs come to life or pull them over from the other side.

SM - What was it like recording with Tad? Did he bring anything new to the table as far as influencing your sound or altering the way that you ultimately envisioned the final product?
CR - Tad was great. Very welcoming and laid back. Just kinda "roll it and go for it" kind of style with us. We weren't smart enough to send him a demo so he didn't even have any idea what songs we were bringing him to record. He just went with the flow. He was open to my harebrained ideas for guitar stuff. He did rein me in a bit because of time limitations. If I had it my way there would be nine guitar tracks on each song. I stayed the hell out of the way when it came to drums and vocals of course. My opinions are highly valued only by myself in those situations.
 When I recorded the drone/noise wall guitar parts for Tenement of the Lost he just handed me his pedal board and said "try this out for a bit". After 45 minutes or so his voice came over the headphones "I think we've got some good stuff here". I had no idea he was recording! Definitely a good way to keep thing loose and improvisational. I used my Laney gh100s Tony Iommi head for most of the guitar tracks, but there is some Fender Champ on there as well. Plenty of it, actually. Darcy used a Peavey vtm60 that we borrowed from Thomas Wilson from Black Cloud. That thing sounds MONSTROUS and Tad brought out the depth of it. Some of Darcy's guitar riffs sound like boulders rolling over villages. IMMENSE. Her clean guitars were played through a mix of a Marshall Studio 15 that we borrowed from Darren Chase of Ancient Warlocks and a super weird top secret solid state 50 watt amp with the throbbiest tremolo/vibrato sound. Both Darcy and I used Black Arts Toneworks pedals on all of the dirty guitars. I leaned heavily on the Revelation Superbass to create the basis of my dirty sound.
SM - One of the cool things about your debut was that you and Darcy divvied up the vocal duties among the eight tracks. “Fracture” and “Wardrums” definitely stand out due to the shift in tone and aggression, yet the album still sounds balanced. I thought that those two tracks broke up the album nicely and your berserker wails tended to juxtapose with Darcy’s more ethereal approach. Is that trend going to continue on the new album?
CR - Darcy sings all of the songs on this one. The only reason is because I didn't write any songs that were for my voice. We have a new songwriting cycle starting soon. It's possible that I will sing on one or more of these. It's not really important to me whether or not I use that voice. The important thing for us is to do service to the song. It's never been about individual mastery of an instrument or voice. We only wish to craft good songs that are memorable and capture the mood of the idea behind the song.
 The singing on Tales of Blood & Fire is more emotive and expressive than the s/t. With the cleaner mix the vocals sit right above the other instruments. Darcy's range on this one is quite evocative of an older era of singers. Comparisons to Grace Slick have been put forth and I can't really argue with that.
 SM - Is there anything that stands out as an influence to the making of ‘Tales of Blood & Fire’, whether it be another band’s music, a certain film, novel, artist or piece of art? Were there any significant differences in how these compositions came together compared to the last album?
CR - Each song is a story, so each song was inspired individually by the story behind it. Sometimes the initial inspiration came from the histories and myths of the Salem Witch Trials, Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations for Salomé, films, art and songs about Elisabeth Bathory, or dreams. Then the inspiration came from bands as well because we feel rooted in a tradition. You can probably hear the influences almost as clearly as we felt them. We are not here to reinvent the bloody wheel.
 On the s/t album we had a long time to write and play the songs live and for the most part the band was based here in Idaho. On this one Darcy and I had many rehearsals with no drums or bass and all of the writing was done by us without much outside influence from other band members. We had a short rehearsal session and then went straight into Witch Ape Studio with Tad. So there is a tension and anxiety underlying the entire thing since it had to be done in six days. It works perfectly for many of the songs since the subject matter deals with being hunted, murder, obsession, vengeance, despair, and loss.
Nick (bass) left after day two of the recording, so that was it for his involvement. He is no longer in the band since his commitments were not with us. 
SM - Is the band still split between Boise and Portland? How does that affect the overall songwriting process and preparation for live gigs? Any plans developing to tour behind ‘Tales of Blood & Fire’?
 CR - Chuck Watkins (drums) lives in Portland and we are continuing without a bassist, at least for now. Chuck also plays in Ephemeros. Their new album, All Hail Corrosion, just came out on Seventh Rule and Parasitic Records. They are destructive.
 So far as preparing for gigs, recording, etc., we try to split our travels. The reality is that Chuck travels more over this way than we do over that way. We are touring the US in October with Mike Scheidt (YOB, VHÖL) doing his solo acoustic material and part of the tour will also be with Mount Salem from Chicago. The Texas dates will be with the unbelievably incredible Sabbath Assembly. We will play a couple of festivals along the way. Starting with Fall Into Darkness Fest in Portland, Oregon October 13 with Mike Scheidt, Hammers of Misfortune, and The Skull (ex - Trouble) and about mid way we will play Baltimore, Maryland's second installment of Autumn Screams Doom Festival on October 26th with Serpentine Path, Dopethrone, LOSS, Churchburn, and a bunch of others that I will regret not mentioning later. Along the way we will play gigs with new friends and old. Like fucking BONGRIPPER in Chicago?!? HELL YEAH! EAGLE TWIN in Salt Lake City?!? GOD DAMN! We will announce all of the dates soon. Still finalizing two or three towns.
SM - Your debut was the perfect mix of doom, psychedelia, noise and despair. What’s in store for the listener this time around?
CR - Well, although that's very kind of you to say, I feel there are ways we could have done better on the s/t record and I'm sure that I would have done something differently with the split 7" and this new album given enough time and space between takes of songs. The lens of time can be clearer than the moment in time, so taking all of that into account and also the fact remains that I can't change it...
This album has heavier drumming like I mentioned before. The guitars are clearer although there is still a psychedelic feel to the recording even with the added aggression to the sound. Dorando from Lesbian mentioned to me that he thought we sound like Flower Travellin' Band more with these songs. I had never thought of it before but I reckon he's right. Something in the extension of the high end of the songs and the warble of the wah pedal. Or maybe we are secretly Japanese, from the 60's, and on loads of bad acid and speed.
SM - I’ve been into music my whole life and I can’t imagine not owning physical copies of alums whether it’s on CD or an LP. In this day and age exceptions are made and I’ll go the digital route if an album is scarce, out-of-print, or a band doesn’t have the means to get their music out in a physical format. Your debut was one of the reasons I dusted off the turntable and sought out a new needle. How important is it for Uzala to put out a physical release?
 CR - I actually don't give a fuck about digital downloads. If someone wants to help us further our band and help us to cover the costs of being on the road, in the studio, procuring vintage gear, etc then by all means they are welcome to buy a digital download from us. If someone wants to "steal" it from a download site, so fucking what? They actually "have" nothing, in my opinion. I'm sure that my age has a lot to do with the formulation of that opinion. I grew up listening to tapes and LPs, watching the needles bounce on dual vU meters on my Dad's old Pioneer and Kenwood gear, blasting my eardrums with old eggshell headphones or cranking Bose 301s and pointing them in different directions to alter the sound in the room.
We take great care in the presentation of the physical formats that we present to the world because we want to put out something that we would enjoy owning. A few of our releases have fallen short in the past, but we will correct that with reissues. Our first thirty or so copies of the demo were made in a very big hurry and they look like utter shit. We would like to reissue that someday to make up for the shoddy handiwork on that one. I think that some future releases will go even further into the realm of crazy packaging, but I reckon we will always try to have a "normal" version for those who just want a black slab and a sleeve to house it in. I don't want to do something stupid and so exclusive that only ebay assholes will buy it. We are still a small band so we do smaller editions for economic reasons.
 SM - Both Uzala and Pallbearer (on their ‘2010 Demo’)—among many artists over the past several decades—have recorded versions of “Gloomy Sunday”. Any renditions that you particularly enjoy? What was it that attracted you to that song and are there any other similar indulgences on the upcoming album?
CR - Diamanda Galas was the sole reason that we recorded Gloomy Sunday with the Desmond Carter lyrics. There was no possible way for us to even reach for what she did, but it was inspirational to us and we had to try our hand at it for our own reasons.
SM - Any other thoughts on ‘Tales of Blood & Fire’ or life in general?
CR - We will be writing and recording more for some splits with a few other bands soon. Look for us in October and November in the US, and we hope to bring UZALA to Europe in the spring. We are talking with some folks about that.
 Interview by Steve Miller
 Pictures credit goes to A. Hecht :

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