Listening to you sick fucks for the first time was like year zero for me. I can’t really explain how truly great ‘Tutti Il Colori Del Buio’ sounded and felt when I first heard it (and it still does). Yes I could hear some solid influences, like Hellhammer, some hardcore, some Death, some Black Metal stuff etc. but this was also MILES BETTER and more weirdly original than anything I’d heard for ages. I’ll be honest, I have a real crush on your sound.
You’ve just release your sophomore album ‘Intoxicantations’. It’s astounding, as I’d expected. My question is thus: what did you guys do to get in a state of mind to write and rehearse the songs on the new album? I mean, do you watch shed loads of grainy low-budget splatter movies, chant rituals, take lots of psychoactive drugs, do press-ups. . . just how the fuck do you do achieve this infamous intensity?
There’s usually a deal of drinking and smoking involved while we work, but that’s nothing more than for the hell of it. I think a lot of what propels Ilsa springs from our own individual alienation. We don’t tend to write a lot on the spot; usually when we get together for practice we have riffs, lyrics, or ideas to work from. This method is to our advantage in that it allows us to tap into that intensity that we each carry naturally, without having to rely on working ourselves up collectively in order to access it. Writing and practicing is fun, I think its what we all are most interested in, and those times are filled with joking around and trying to figure what works the best for honing the sound we strive for. During the the time that we wrote and recorded ‘Intoxicantations’ two of Sharad’s friends were coming to terms with addictions that were ruining their lives. He was getting calls at all hours of the day regarding their individual self-destructions which today are his most vivid memories — witnessing what felt like his friends dying played a large role.
‘Roving Blade’ and ‘Barbry Allen’ are both traditional folk songs. I don’t really know of any comparable band that covers old folk material. It’s just one of the reasons why Ilsa are so bloody brilliant. So who is(are) the folk fan(s) in the band and why these two songs in particular?
They are really fucking sad, grim, and violent songs that manage to still capture the beauty of life and love. Being a Judas Priest fan, I admired their ability to take a Joan Baez or Spooky Tooth song and make it their own, and was initially surprised to find out that some of their best songs were actually covers. That was what really opened the box for me in terms of wanting to adapt old songs to our style and execution. Its also a central element in folk music, and something that punk and metal is heavily indebted to. To take what someone else has created and put your own spin on it. I find myself bemoaning the repetitiveness of so many bands coming from this or that subgenre; the culture of FFO (for fans of) that haunts so much underground music today. While that knowledge of context and influence is important to honor, there’s something to be said for the anonymity of traditional music, where who wrote it first is secondary to the power of its performance. It seems contradictory, but thats also part of its allure. ‘Foreign Lander’, on the new album is another example of a reappropriated folk ballad, and we intend to continue that tradition in our songwriting.
Would you describe yourselves as closer to any one ‘scene’ in particular? I mean, do you feel most comfortable as part of some DC hardcore tradition, or an underground metal clique, or do you feel alienated and apart from any so-called scene?
DIY music is the only scene we truly feel part of, and that’s outside any specific genre. We’ve played with all sorts of different bands, and often find the ones we feel most akin to are those that have fun and appreciate what they’re doing, without pretense. DC doesn’t have so much of a set “scene” of one type, which is to its creative advantage.
I recently bought ‘The Maggots are Hungry’ ep (a re-release of your first recording). As I expected, it is fucking amazing. I read somewhere that you weren’t too pleased with it. Why oh why?
Originally ‘The Maggots are Hungry’ was mastered by Nick Skorbiz, then remastered by us with an alternative vocal track we taped at our practice space. It had just been retouched too many times by then, and felt flat and tinny. Aside from ‘Primrose Path’ and ‘120 Days’ we no longer play any of those songs, and the guitars were out of tune in a way we couldn’t handle. A389 approached us about a small remastered press for their anniversary show, and we reluctantly agreed after our butchered cdr version was uploaded online. The LP pressing sounds a lot better than our mix, but we feel that ‘Tutti..’ and ‘Intoxicantations’ are much more accurate representations of what Ilsa is to us.
A389 Recordings seem a very cool label at the moment. How did you hook up with them in the first place?
We had initially been with Contagion and Dark Descent records, but left after we discovered that Dark Descent was distributing albums with the American NSBM label Satanic Skinhead. As an openly queer, interracial band, we were disgusted to be associated, even marginally, with a label like that. While working with Dark Descent and Contagion, we ran into an ever-increasing mob of artists and fans who were expressing racist and homophobic sentiments under the auspices of Metal. It was weird and creepy and made us not enjoy what we were doing, so we had to change things to get back to our element. We dropped Dark Descent, and after discussion with Contagion, came to the agreement that A389 would be a better fit. Teaming with Dom and A389 has been one of the best decisions we’ve made. His dedication and assistance has been truly invaluable. Most of us already knew him and the label to begin with, so when he approached us, it was an easy decision. Being a metal and horror fan coming from the Maryland DIY punk scene was also a big plus.
I noticed James Plotkin mastered both your albums. This interested me because I use his services to master most of the releases on my own label (Head of Crom). Why do you prefer him over other individuals?
James does an unbeatable job mastering, and has always assisted us at a reasonable rate. There’s definitely some Khanate fans in Ilsa, so we have great respect for him as a musician, which is certainly an important aspect. Lately we’ve worked with Kevin Bernsten of Developing Nations studios (and the band Triac), another incredible musician and, uh, master’er.
What kind of stuff are you listening to at the moment? Any recommendations for our readers out there?
Lets see.. in the van its been a lot of Warhammer, Milk Music, December Wolves, Warning, Coffins, Methdrinker, Kavinsky, Uncle Acid.. could go on forever really.. Some great local acts we’ve had the pleasure of playing with have been Windhand, Satan’s Satyrs, Midnight Eye, Oak, Magrudergrind, Interarma, Mortals, Old Lines, Backslider… The East coast has had a slew of excellent bands lately..
Any particular horror film favourites that are shared by the entire band? Suspiria? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Basket Case?
Hmm, hard to know what the whole band has been equally floored by, we get less opportunities to watch movies all together these days. ‘Human Centipede 2’, the Japanese film ‘Naked Blood’, ‘Beyond the Black Rainbow’ (more science fiction really), Gaspar Noe’s ‘Enter the Void’ (we actually used a sound clip from his film ‘Irreversible’ in the intro on the new album), anything by Michael Haneke like ‘Time of the Wolf’, or ‘Benny’s Video’. The new French extremes ‘Inside’, ‘Martyrs’ (which we even named a song after!) and ‘Frontiers’. Old gems like the heavy metal horror ‘Trick or Treat’, the giallo-esque ‘Don’t Look Now’. Another list that could go on and on.
What other things influence you as a band and as individuals apart from the obvious stuff like music and films?
Probably drugs and depression, relationships, pulpy horror novels, internet porn, visual artists, religious fanaticism, occult crimes, pinball, nihilism, poverty..
Bit of a curveball here. . . there are various things that I really like about being English and living here. Yet I moan my arse off about many shitty things in this country too. What do you enjoy about living in the USA and what do you hate about living in the USA?
That is a weird question. Hard to say what we enjoy about living in the US as most of us haven’t lived anywhere else to compare it to.. Its much easier to think of the things we fucking hate about it. Police, work, the “justice” system, taxes, traffic, suburbia, urban decay, urban renewal, children, dubstep, billboards, Christians, …blah blah blah. Basically all the shit that makes for good songs.
What is the turnout like for gigs in the DC area? I always get the impression that it’s a strong scene over there. Sometimes there aren’t too many punters at local gigs in Manchester and it can be a little disheartening.
Depends on the show, and even then it can be a crap shoot. We don’t have any big fanbase, but can usually rely on our friends to come out. It’s biggest DIY venue is St. Stephens, an Episcopal church that has hosted shows since the 80’s.. Probably holds 300-400 people at capacity. The most well attended event we’ve played was probably with Dropdead, or in Baltimore with Catharsis and Integrity, but its unusual to see that many people at a gig in DC. There are some clubs, notably the Black Cat, but it tends to have indy rock bands, and didn’t have metal shows there for years. St. Vitus played a few months ago and I think they got a nice reception.
I would bloody love to see Ilsa fly over (or take a boat) to Britain and play some mean gigs in London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham etc. I’m not on my own either. Any chance of this happening at some point?
Sure, wanna buy us some tickets? We REALLY want to come to Britain and Europe to tour, but we’re also REALLY fucking poor, and cant forsee making our way there without some serious assistance. Maybe we’ll tour with Bolt Thrower some day. Maybe we’ll win the lotto. Probably not.
In all seriousness though, it is beyond flattering to know that people overseas listen to what we create and want to see us perform. We genuinely hope to be able to make it over in the time we share together as a band, much more than touring the US, which we’ve also yet to do.
Thanks for your time ILSA – you are awesome.
Thank you, yes, we are the best band.
Interviewed by: Adam Stone