Kustodian crept into Shaman scribe Pete Green’s musical lair almost undetected. No press release, no website, no pictures, no details, no hype, just a 5-track debut album in the form of ‘Dusted Emporer’, a claustrophobically mechanical, DIY, solo effort filled to the brim with doom riffs, harrowing samples, mass confusion and broken dreams of a clear and well-structured world future. With all of these ideas and techniques stemming from the creativity of one man alone, the project breeds intrigue and asks many more questions than it answers. Still searching for some reasons in the abyss, Pete sought out Kustodian’s own custodian, the NYC-based musician Sean Corcoran to get an exclusive first-hand take on this far from traditional project…
Hi there Sean, how are things? It’s a pleasure to have you with us here on The Sleeping Shaman. Where are we speaking to you from today?
I’m doing great. Thanks for the interview. I’m here in New York City, Harlem to be exact.
For those who haven’t yet made Kustodian’s acquaintance thus far, can you tell us a bit about your one-man project? What is your mission? And do you personally have a history with any other groups or musical forms?
Kustodian was something I started about 3 years ago after a bunch of riffs and ideas started to pile up. I’ve always been interested in messing with sounds and mixing since I was a kid, more so than actually playing. A guitar effects pedal tends to hold my attention more than a guitar itself, so I’ve always been into the recording side of things. I’d record friends’ bands and mix their demos, do remixes, stuff like that. The initial reason I started recording on my own was just for fun and it gave me something to mix. About 10 years ago, my friends and I had a sort of joke side project called ‘Muff’. Those guys are all great cooks and already played in a band, so there was always food and instruments around. We’d get together in a basement, smoke the place out, cook a massive meal and just jam. Very tribal-sounding stuff, really psychedelic, two drumkits, all kinds of weird organ, samples and effects. I’d record everything on a 4-track and just tweak the hell out of it. This is before I had any clue what I was doing, not that I do now (Laughs). I recorded a bunch of projects from that time that are just me trying to figure out how to work my gear and play something. Most of those projects are all over the place, songs that try to sound like ten different genres at once. I’d want to be Crowbar for the intro and Mr. Bungle by the end of the song. They’re funny to listen back to now, but at least it was a start. After a while, I started to put ideas together to make something cohesive and ended up with Kustodian. I work as a sound engineer here in the city now, so I’m always recording different artists and types of music; jazz, hip-hop, acoustic, you name it. I mess around with all different types of sounds, but Kustodian is more of the weird and heavy experiment for me.
Why the name Kustodian?
I always have a notebook to scribble down ideas. Most of the time I just write down reminders or funny song titles. I was flipping through some old pages from God-knows-when, and one page was blank except for the top line. It said “#1 Custodian”. I think it was the start of a list of songs but I have no idea when or why I wrote it. I was probably swimming in Jameson at the time. I told my friend about it when I was first playing him some demos and he made me a logo but wrote it with a “K”. He needed to change the “C” so he could hang an upside-down cross off the first letter! Very metal! (Laughs)
What live instruments do you bring to the mix? How do the tracks and arrangements come together?
I play the guitars and bass live. There is some synth stuff that is either live or playing off a sequencer as a loop. Some of the percussion is live but most of the drums are samples. I use a program called ‘Reason’ that is geared more towards electronic or hip-hop type production. It’s full of synthesizers, samplers and drum machines. I’ll usually start just playing guitar over a drum machine, settle into a few riffs and record them. Then I’ll give them a listen over a few days to get ideas of what works, what doesn’t. I’ll tweak the arrangement until its ready, then I go back and re-record most of the guitar and bass like you would as a band. I have no problem with using a computer as a studio, but I like the idea of a recording being a ‘moment’. Quite a few of the guitar tracks are the original demos, as in, the first or second time I played them. There are plenty of parts all over ‘Dusted Emperor’ and the new record that I’m finishing now that are a little “off”, but I still want it to sound somewhat human. I’m not down with overproducing everything just because you can.
Have you ever wanted to play this kind of music with others as a band? Or are you happier with a bedroom/studio-type project that gives you the complete freedom?
For sure! I love recording other people almost just as much. As you can tell I’m not exactly Yngwie Malmsteen, so when I jam with people my comfort zone is a Sleep or Neurosis-type tempo. Which is fun too, but not many drummers like to play that slow. When it comes to my own ideas or riffs I prefer to just do everything myself, but I’m not a shut-in who can’t work with other people. I make music with other people all the time, but it works because everyone understands the ultimate goal is to enjoy the process and be proud of the results. That’s it, that’s the payoff. I think when people hear about a “one-man metal project” they picture some dude in corpsepaint hanging out alone in the woods. It’s cool if that’s their thing, but Kustodian is just me mostly because it’s convenient. I don’t have to deal with any egos or personal bullshit that comes with being a ‘band’. I’ve seen bandmates at each other’s’ throats over the stupidest shit. No thanks. So as for actually playing Kustodian stuff live, I could probably make it happen, but every time I think about the process of rehearsing and getting everyone in a room together it gives me a headache. I get much more satisfaction just making new stuff. When I finish making a song, the last thing I want to do is replay it a thousand times. I can’t rule it out completely but it’s not likely.
Do you include any of your own vocals on the album, or just samples?
There are both but I often add effects and distort them until it’s hard to tell what you’re hearing. That’s the idea. The vocals were never really part of the plan, but I didn’t want to just scream and sound like a million other bands do. I messed with the vocals until it was more of a harsh noise or ambient-type sound than a human voice. The samples are mostly people on the subway or the street. The sample towards the end of ‘Commuters’ is of a woman having a complete breakdown at CVS. I went in to buy some NyQuil and she was in the middle of the store just flipping the fuck out! The poor security guy was trying to calm her down but she was just screaming nonsense at everyone. I mean, listen to it again; it’s some proper ‘Exorcist’-type shit! I had my recorder in my backpack, and there you have it. (Laughs) If she reads this I’ll gladly send her a few bucks for the performance! Pink Floyd is my favourite band, and the way they worked in samples of people and different environments is something I’ve always wanted to do.
I gather from your own admissions that Godflesh is a huge influence on the ‘Dusted Emperor’ record. What is it about the Birmingham industrial metal pioneers that really grabbed you and made you want to do something similar?
The thing I’ve always really dug about Godflesh or a lot of Justin Broadrick’s stuff is that you can tell he didn’t really make it for the listener. The first time I heard ‘Love Is a Dog from Hell’ was a complete game-changer. It’s almost confrontational. It’s this huge, thunderous start, after a minute you’re waiting for them to get on with it. Nope. They give you the first three and half minutes to get on board or turn your fucking stereo off. I have friends that love heavy music but can’t listen to Godflesh and I think that’s awesome. You’re either on board or you’re not, and I think that’s a sign of an artist that does exactly what they want to do, strictly for themselves. I’ve read interviews with Broadrick where he describes how Birmingham made them sound “urban”, not like hip-hop urban, but gritty and mechanical. I moved to New York in 2002, just as Godflesh disbanded. I had just started to get into them and I was taking in this crazy new environment: riding the subway, dealing with the fucking massive amount of people. I love it here now, but back then it made my head spin and Godflesh was always a perfect soundtrack. When I got the itch to play music myself, all I had was a drum machine and a guitar. There’s a ton of other influences, but the drum machine and moving to the city made them a definite starting point for me.
Are there specific themes that the record looks to address beyond the crushing riffs and morbid beats? Or is each song a different entity entirely? Is there some sort of political agenda behind the heaviness here?
Each song on the album loosely follows a theme, basically little stories based on the city and the crazy people who live here. I work in some points of view but I try to stay far away from politics. The song ‘Dusted Emperor’ is basically about a person in power, a ruler who happens to be a maniac. And he smokes angel dust. (Laughs) ‘Swarm of the Homeless’ is about all the veterans who are now living in the gutter. Then an old government order simultaneously clicks in their mind and they resort back to their military training and start taking vengeance on the city as an organized unit. There’s some real B-movie type stuff there! I’d say most of Kustodian comes from idea of just observing human behaviour. I’m a huge George Carlin fan. He’s always been an inspiration to me; looking around and analysing the people you see every day and how they act.
What’s the heavy music scene like in your native New York City? I don’t hear of too many new underground bands coming out of NYC these days, but perhaps I’m not looking hard enough!
There is actually a pretty decent scene here. There are quite a few venues so there is rarely a lack of shows. Batillus is one band from Brooklyn that caught my attention. I saw them open for YOB. Great doom. Slow and heavy, but a lot of cool ambient, atmospheric sounds. The vocalist controls his mic with all sorts of delays and effects on-stage. Good stuff.
I personally love New York! It’s the only place in the world I’ve ever been where life doesn’t ever stop, or even slow down, whatever the time of day. Do you think the 24-hour nature of the Big Apple has had an effect on your music at all? I see you have a fairly busy piece on the record called ‘Commuters’…
Most definitely! New York is a huge influence on the sound. There are definitely times when I wonder why the hell I live here. It is never truly quiet. I wake up to the sound of traffic every day. People yelling on the street all night, car alarms around the clock. It might explain why I sometimes feel the need to layer in so much noise into a song when it isn’t necessary. It sounds cheesy but I’m pretty sure there is a huge impact on how people act when they’re rarely around anything that isn’t man-made. It makes me appreciate going to visit friends or family who have a backyard, or maybe a couple of trees. That being said, it’s never boring here and I love it, most of the time.
I wrote the lyrics to “Commuters” on the 6-train. It’s about being forced into these small spaces with strangers. Pretty often you come across complete fucking lunatics; people off their meds, people at the end of their rope mentally. Like the lady at CVS. It makes for some interesting rides to work! (Laughs) It’s about one or many of those people making a move and creating some sort of tragedy. People are getting pushed onto the tracks every other week. It’s just nuts.
The track ‘Adapters’ is very different to the brutal grooves and haunting atmospherics of the rest of Dusted Emperor. There are some gentle piano parts and a lot of sampled conversations and media clips. Is this like a calm-within-the-storm sort of moment?
Exactly. It’s two 911 calls of people dealing with violent intruders. I can’t sit down and make something heavy every day, so I end up with these weird experiments that just fit in sometimes. But you’re right; it gives the listener a break from all the distortion and noise… even though it ends up getting distorted and noisy! (Laughs) I have hours of tracks that are like this, so it’s likely to become a regular thing.
Are there any other new records or bands you’ve been enjoying lately? Any friends or local acts you’d like to turn us on to?
Everyone should go out and buy Thin Lizzy’s ‘Live and Dangerous’. I know its 35 years old, but it should be essential listening. For all the times I’ve been force-fed every overplayed “classic rock” song, it pisses me off that someone, a radio station, a friend, didn’t put me on to Thin Lizzy when I was younger. I’m only 31, but I could’ve used a heads-up on them when I was 13. I’m really digging the new Cult of Luna album and I wish they’d tour the states sometime. I just saw Gojira last week, fucking incredible. I’m definitely looking forward to the new Eyehategod. They came through Brooklyn a few months ago and included like five new songs in the setlist, I can’t wait for that one. I really dig this band called Altar of Plagues out of Ireland. They’re really different, a mix of ambient-noise type stuff and black metal. I don’t listen to very much black metal, but these guys stand out. Such a cool mix of dynamics and they keep getting better. My friend and I have a group called Glass Joe. We try everything from grindcore to Final Cut-era Floyd, in the same song sometimes! It’s all over the place! Also check out my friends in Pill Collins. I recorded them late last year and we’re just getting around to sitting down and mixing it. We got a couple mics in a smokey basement and recorded straight to tape. Good sludge. It sounds exactly like it is supposed to: no Pro Tools, loud and raw, riffs upon riffs.
I always ask this! If you could choose just one, Sleep or Kyuss, who would you pick and why?
Sleep! It’s not even close. I like Kyuss, but Sleep is one of the reasons I like this type of music. When I first started trying to write stuff on guitar, my friends were in a thrash band. I’d watch them and I couldn’t fathom how I’d ever be able to play a Slayer cover. When I heard ‘Dopesmoker’ I thought, “Yes. Fuck all this shredding. I’m gonna have a smoke and play very slow.” I saw Sleep on their first round of reunion shows and they were incredible. What made it so cool was I was resigned to the fact I’d never see them. I’m a fan of what they became, too. I fucking love Om. There isn’t another band that sounds even remotely like Om. Sleep disbanded but then went onto give us High on Fire and Om, before fully reuniting 11 years later, and they still continue with their other bands! What more could you ask for? Yeah, it’s Sleep all the way for me. I could go on and on!
What do you do when you’re not making music? What else keeps your days busy?
My main gig is teaching at an audio recording school. I teach mostly software and digital stuff. I do a handful of engineering and live sound gigs on the side as well. Kustodian doesn’t represent how I record and mix everything. If anything, I make things very rough and noisy as a reaction to trying to make things sound clean and easy-on-the-ears in my day job. For years I had a gig running sound for an open mic night that was mostly aspiring Broadway actresses. It paid well but it made me hate the sound of a clean singing voice for a long time. I try to devote at least a couple hours a week to work on music. Other than that, my wife just adopted another dog, and I love dogs so I spend a lot of time walking them. The new guy is a little hound with a great growling voice, so I might start a band with him on vocals! (Laughs)
Do you have any plans for the future? I hear there’s another new Kustodian record nearly in the can? (Or most likely on mp3s…)
Yes! I’m very happy with the new album. It’s called ‘Methlehem Steel’ and its 90% finished. I’ve picked up the pace a little bit, but there are still all the elements of the first album. I’m laying down the vocals now, but the music is finished and it should be out late spring or early summer. Every band always says their new album is better, but this one just is. It’s just a step forward for everything, the overall sound. The next few releases after ‘Methlehem Steel’ will probably be EPs. I’m looking forward to being able to get a few quick ideas out and move on. I’m trying to avoid getting sick of songs before I finish them. I’ve been thinking about doing a covers EP too, it’ll happen eventually.
Thanks a lot for taking the time out to talk to us and best of luck moving forward with Kustodian and any of your other projects! Do stay in touch if there’s anything new you’d like to share with us. Is there anything further you want to add?
Thank you very much for the interview, Pete. The Sleeping Shaman rules and I’m honoured you guys are listening! I’ll be sure to give you guys a shout when the new album is done. Thanks to everyone for reading and listening. The album is free, the new one will be free also. Check it out at http://kustodian.bandcamp.com or just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again. Cheers.
Interviewed by: Pete Green