Caïna: An Interview With Andrew Curtis-Brignell

After seven years of producing some the UK’s most intriguing black metal, spanning from icily harsh blasts of old-school misanthropy to the solemn introspection of swan-song Hands That Pluck, Caïna, a.k.a. Andrew Curtis-Brignell, decided to call it a day in 2011. Thankfully it was only a brief departure, with the project being resurrected the following year, and if his return has gone unnoticed by many then it’s not been for lack of trying. Following several digital-only releases, further exploring the more outré side of his sound, and a UK tour, he has returned too to black metal with his first physical release in two years, the searing Earth Inferno EP. A few questions were promptly fired over to find out what he has planned next.

Caïna - Andrew Curtiss-Brignell

First of all, cheers for taking the time to answer these questions. You have a new cassette out on Church Of Fuck, it’s almost sold out and some very positive reviews are starting to come in. How are you feeling about this reaction to your first physical release in a couple of years?

Thanks for having me, David. It’s been quite overwhelming actually, in a good way. Church of Fuck’s existing fanbase have responded really positively and it also seems to have galvanised people who were listeners already but hadn’t kept up with the rather low-key relaunch of the project earlier in the year. The buzz around the project hasn’t been this good in years, and that’s tremendously exciting.

Since you came back you’ve been kept pretty busy with composing new material but with Earth Inferno, you chose to release some tracks from the vaults. What made you decide to dig these tracks in particular out?

The usual release process, where I record something then see who wants to release it (if it all) was kind of turned on its head for this release. I met Laurence who runs COF shortly after moving to Manchester (shout out to all the COF/V Rev/EY/Old Skin crew) and although he hadn’t a clue who I was at that point we really wanted to do something together, and we wanted that something to be as evil as possible. I was looking to get back into writing black metal, and I remembered I had the 3 central tracks of the EP that I was keen to do something with. Laurence dug them so I thought the best way to round off the release was with something really new and something really old. I’m pretty happy with how it’s turned out.

You’ve expressed a desire lately to go back to your black metal roots, which is something that you’d never really abandoned but seemed somewhat peripheral to your work in later years. What is it about black metal that has drawn you back?

I guess black metal is my musical pole star – although I was really into music prior to hearing it for the first time in about 2002, BM is the first thing I ever heard that felt like it was ‘mine’ and spoke to me on an instinctive, primal level. It was also the first time I ever heard something and thought “I could try and make this.” Hands that Pluck is, to me, a very BM orientated record, but when I was thinking about bringing the project back I listened to it and thought “this is okay, but it could be…blacker.” The impulse to want to better my previous efforts helped get me going again.

Speaking of returns, you said you were calling it a day after Hands That Pluck back in 2011 but you returned (thankfully) not long after. Since then, you released a couple of digital-only releases and conducted a tour in a pretty short space of time. Was there anything that prompted you to bring Caïna back, and in such a major way?

I’ve had a pretty tough couple of years in my personal life, and to be honest I only realised that I needed it after I stopped doing it. I thought Caïna was counterproductive to my sanity, but it turns out it’s instrumental in maintaining it.

Caïna 'Earth Inferno' Artwork

You’d always maintained quite an unpredictable status, shifting from old-school BM to ambient, neo-folk and minimalist. How far in advance do you know what direction your material will take? Do you just wake up and think, “Right! Today’s the day I write the grimmest shit humanity has ever heard”?

Pretty much! I probably think about 6-12 months ahead at all times – although Caïna is pretty eclectic, I’m not such a dilettante that I’ll just change my style every ten minutes. In order to maintain a sensible release schedule it can’t be quite that spontaneous, though it probably looks like that to an impartial observer.

The material you’ve released since returning has all been self-released, digital-only releases. Has there been any interest in releasing these physically and would you take them up on it if there was?

Apart from the tape, you’re right. Yes, there has been interest but to be honest, I’m not sure how interested I am. 2013’s releases prior to Earth Inferno are all highly experimental, which means there’s a lot of trial and error on those recordings. I’m not remotely embarrassed by it or anything, but I think I’m happy with that material remaining fairly peripheral. Never say never though.

I hear that you’ve expressed some interest in soundtrack work. In your mind, what would the ideal Caïna-scored movie look and feel like?

Great question. Film is a huge part of my life – I spent nearly 6 years at University studying it and I try to watch something every other day at least. I’m a big collector of film soundtrack LPs, particularly horror and science-fiction stuff, which inspired one of my digital releases this year under the pseudonym Fabio Fritzl. It was supposed to be the soundtrack to an imaginary video nasty.

A ‘serious’ film scored by me though? That’s a tough one. The contemporary film-maker I most fantasise about working with is probably Ben Wheatley (A Field In England, Sightseers, Kill List) – his combination of horror, humour and genuine English weirdness is utterly captivating, and his imagery is stunning. Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) and Nicholas Winding Refn (particularly Valhalla Rising) spring to mind too. Basically something meditative, arty, but visceral. Actually that sums up Caïna pretty well too.

Caïna - Andrew Curtiss-Brignell

What’s your typical live set-up, and how does this compare to what you’d normally use on studio recordings?

Right now the live and studio entities are completely separate. Live, I basically stand there and make a combination of shrieking power electronics, abyssal drone and black metal vocals. It’s more a performance art thing than anything else and I should really do it under a different name, but then again it is similar to some of my more ambient recordings, or even Macun from Earth Inferno. However, for the 10th anniversary show the plan is to open with a solo set and then introduce a full band playing tracks from the whole decade I’ve been active.

Something I’ve been debating with a few people lately is the colossal success of Deafheaven this year. Many see it as a great release for bringing mainstream listeners to what black metal really is these days, and away from the caricatures of corpsepaint and waving battle-axes in Scandinavian forests. Do you think something like black metal, in any form, can ever achieve any mainstream success, though?

Firstly, I have to declare that I’m firmly on the Deafheaven bandwagon. I think Sunbather is a colossal record. It’s beautiful, savage and genuinely game-changing. In fact, one of the reasons I’ll probably never go back to the more explicitly ‘post black metal’ sounds of, say, 2008’s Temporary Antennae is because I think the style has now been perfected and I don’t think there’s much more to say about it after Sunbather. I don’t really have an opinion on what it means for black metal as a whole though – I have an affinity for both the truest and the…falsest (?) black metal, and I’m not really interested in fandom or internet debates. What I will say is that I think it’s tremendously positive that a more sensitive, aesthetically aware side of BM has had such exposure, but I can completely understand why some people are resistant to it.

What’ve you got lined up in the near future?

2014 is going to be the project’s defining year. I have some amazing split releases lined up, the next (fully black metal) full-length Setter of Unseen Snares, a musical collaboration with my friends and heroes Krieg (our third, but the first we’ll actually be writing together), the anniversary show and more. Some of it’s started already, and I feel like everything’s combining to make this the strongest time ever for Caïna, both musically and in terms of exposure. I’m also doing a lot of non-Caina related music too – for example it’s going to be a really exciting year for the band I play drums for, Bastard Sons of Abraham (hi chaps). I have a powerhouse of a manager now, Cheryl Carter of Bleak Metal, I have some amazing new musical partners, and I can’t wait to get totally stuck in.

Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp

Interviewed by: Dave Bowes