Unearthly Trance need little in the way of an introduction to the readers of The Sleeping Shaman, or if they do, what the hell have you been doing!?! As this behemoth of Darkened Sludge induced Doom prepare to enter the studio to record their, as yet untitled, fifth album and with 2 split 7″‘s alongside heavyweights Aldebaran & Volition being made available recently, now seemed like the right time to fire some questions over to guitarist/vocalist & main protagonist Ryan…
For those who have been living under a rock for the past few years, or are just plain ignorant, can you give us a brief rundown of the band?
Unearthly Trance started in 2000. In late 99-2000 I left NY and moved to Boston for a short period of a few months. When I moved back from Boston, I started to talk to Jay and Pete about starting up a blackened, sludgy heavy metal band. Jay and I had a common interest in sludge, hardcore, experimental and doom metal. We started with an original drummer Pete and then quickly got Darren in 2001. Pete was more into fast straightforward HC stuff. We were delving into the time-elasticating sounds that would become the Hadit demo and then SOS SOS. Darren was the perfect man for the job, and we have never looked back since. UT released 2 records on Lee Dorian’s label Rise Above [ “SOS SOS”, “In The Red”] and those two had a North American release by Eric Lemasters of the now extinct The Music Cartel from Long Island NY. After those two, we moved to Relapse Records and have up till now released 2 albums. [“The Trident” and “Electrocution”] UT has recorded numerous vinyl records over the years that have become for us the definitive way of releasing Unearthly Trance musick. We are gearing up to record our 5th full-length album that is as of now, untitled. We’re a band that take pride in our craft and songs. That is what has kept us around. The will to create.
In 2010 you’ll have been around for 10 years and since Darren joined on drums back in 2001, you’ve managed to keep the same line-up, but how do you think you’ve managed to achieve this as you must be good friends outside of the band as well, especially with the amount of gigging/touring you do?
We are really good friends. We have certainly had our ups and downs. Had a few blowups on tour and insane arguments. But always comes back to the fact that we really enjoy simply playing as UT. Jamming in the rehearsal room really keeps us together. When we took a break for a few months we craved it! I think the band is unique and the feeling we create cannot be replaced by another band or project. It simply satisfies us to continue down this path regardless of outside opinion/influence.
You’re currently getting ready to record your fifth album, 3rd for Relapse Records, which you must be incredibly excited about, so what can we can expect from this recording, what tracks its likely to feature, and probably more importantly, when its planned to be released?
Yeah we are super excited for this. No one really knows what we have been up to and that is a good thing! We have 12 songs written and are about to start tracking drums in Manhattan NYC. For the first time we will record a record by ourselves [with help of a pro engineer] in our hometown. We will take our time and make it the most personal sounding UT record to date. Probably will be a bit more ugly and less polished yet more thought out and unique. Working song titles: “Unveiled”, “The Horsemen Arrive in the Night, “Solar Eye”, “Adversaries Mask”, “The Tesla Effect”, “Sleeping While They Feast”, “Submerged Metropolis”, “Current Brings Fire”, “Physical Universe Distorts” ,”Into A Chasm” and one more. It will be released in the spring if you wanted my educated guess.
And will you be using Volume Studio’s again with Stanford Parker at the helm after the incredible job he did with ‘Electrocution’?
We have temporarily relinquished Sanford Parker from his duty as producer extraordinaire on this album but we shall return to Chicago soon I’m sure! We wanted to mix it up and work on the album in NY and this is the album we are going to do it on! We haven’t recorded an album in NY since Season Of Séance…
You’re also a band not to shy away on releasing tracks on smaller, lesser known labels, usually in the form of split releases on limited vinyl’s, so why do you think it’s important for Unearthly Trance to do this as you do seem to embrace the DIY approach and is it something that you’ll carry on in the future?
We grew up collecting 7″ records. Vinyl is the purest form of a physical copy in my eyes. If someone has an idea to do a split we are down. Having said that, the reason we have done all of these splits is because we are friends with the other band. It’s a way of co-releasing something with friends. Underground bands supporting each other. We used to shy away from things like this but since we have so much time between full lengths, this is what we’ve been into creating. The DIY approach is something we will not relinquish. So many bands sign to a label and think they are going to be the next “hot” thing or hit the “big time. Its so laughable how easily bands change and shape themselves to be the flavour of the month”. We are ONLY interested in our own music. SO if we get the chance to create a vinyl that could potentially be around years after we are long gone, then its what we shall do! I think people don’t need to wait at least 2 years to hear something new [or old!] from a band.
And how easy have you found this do to as a) you must be inundated with offers and b) are you under any contractual agreements with Relapse as to the licensing/use of your music?
No. We will only really do splits with people we know. Relapse is cool with small releases as long as its vinyl. Their concerns are cds/retail and digital realms mostly. Our most recent vinyl’s are mostly of cover songs or older songs as we have been saving up new material for the album we are about to record. We put these things out as smaller pieces of our career. Similar to artists who do different paintings that aren’t all created on the same canvas or with the same materials. We aim to release as much as we can until we run out of ideas! Strike while the iron is hot even and better yet keep it hot with our fire!
Two new UT split 7″s are just about to be released, the first is with Aldebaran, a band I hadn’t heard of until this split was announced, and the 2nd with my good friends and fellow Cumbrian’s Volition, both these splits however contain cover versions from His Hero Is Gone and Winter, so why were these bands/tracks chosen?
AH well that is great! The idea of a fan of one band checking out the opposite band is part of the reason we do this. Tim Call is one of our oldest friends in UTs career. He has released many Unearthly Trance records and is 100% underground. I remember meeting him in Portland on the Electric Wizard tour in 2002! Aldedaran is crushing doom that deserves to be noticed! The HHIG song is something we talked about for years and finally got to do it! The Winter track was the opposite. The Volition dudes approached us to record a track for this split that was envisioned. We took them up on it and I can confidently say both bands did Winter total justice and respect.
A few months ago you re-recorded the track ‘VVVV’ and made it available as a free download, but why did you chose to do it this way, rather than releasing it as part of an album or split release?
It was a track that we pulled out at the last second during a recent recording session. Tracked songs for 3 split vinyl’s and decided to re-record that song for fun. We started to play it a lot again on our last European tour so it made sense to lay it down and do an updated version. I think doing a free download track here and there is something that we will continue in the future. I like releasing things on all formats, including cassette. So if anyone would like to release SOS,SOS, The Trident or Electrocution on CS, get in touch! Also get in touch for laserdisc, eight track, flexis, vhs, elevator muzak and mono acetates! Ha-ha
You’re a band who puts on a breathtaking live performance and you’ve also toured the UK/Europe 3 times over the last few years so how do you find it gigging/touring over here and how does it differ from being on the ‘road’ in the US?
The road in the US is a lot more [for lack of a better word] sketchy! You can get screwed out of pay, food, and places to stay even if it is promised to you months in advance. In Europe they seem to have more respect for musicians and artists. A higher standard of hospitality and sound. I think the USA could learn a thing from how many venues and promoters run their shows. UK and Europe have more “touring companies” and band drivers. All very helpful for bands traveling and touring over seas. US is notorious for very dangerous cities and getting robbed. Also the south isn’t too kind too us yankees hahaha
All 3 tours have also been with the UK’s purveyors of Doom and long standing friends Ramesses, so do you think we’ll see you guys hook up for a 4th tour?
Possibly. We have done that so many times and we even toured with Mark and Tim on the UT/E.WIZ tour in the states. I think being on the road with friends is of highest importance. We all know each other well and have the same sense of humour. I’m sure it will happen again. However, we also spoke to Black Cobra about doing some European shows next year, so we shall see what we can put together. I know Ramesses wanted to come to the US, so if they do, we will certainly play shows with them when they come here!
Can you tell us a little bit about the current projects your involved with as there have been quite a few over the years, namely Thralldom, Villains, The Howling Wind and more recently Pollution and do you find these a good avenue to allow you to explore music/ideas which would otherwise be unsuitable to use in Unearthly Trance?
No. I don’t think it is about ideas that don’t work with UT; rather it’s me working with other people in different sonic environments. The lyrics I write, in all my bands are tied together in one way or another. When I write a song I am thinking about the particular project in the back of my mind. I never have the dilemma of figuring out which band the song belongs too. I think the differences in my bands are due to the other personalities in the bands foremost. And the secondary aspect would be how I approach the initial writing of the riffs before I bring them down to jam on. The Howling Winds drummer Tim sends me finished drum ideas and structure first. He conjures the entire skeleton on his side first! Then I write riffs to it. So you can see that Tim’s influence on me is huge. In Pollution most of my ideas go through our guitarists Sean’s filter. He likes to chop things up and mess with timing and cool things! My thrill of having so many projects is that I’m lucky to jam and record with other awesome musicians. Collaboration can be magick!
What are your thoughts on illegal downloads as a quick Google of Unearthly Trance will find numerous blogs offering your releases available as a free download so does it concern you that (possibly?) a large percentage of users won’t then go on to buy your album, or do you feel it’s more important that people actually listen and enjoy your music and its irrelevant how they obtain it as its just tape trading of the 80’s/90’s brought into the digital age?
I hate that people don’t have any ethics about it. The blogs that post out of print gems and cool long lost demo tapes rule! That is how you do it! I love hunting on those sites. And truthfully, I mainly only listen to older music. But when I saw both of our Relapse albums leaked weeks before their release, you realise “record sales” isn’t exactly the definitive way to define a bands success. In fact, there isn’t a way besides selling out concerts and having lots of kids wearing your garb. I like to grab albums off the internet but always decided to do this after I saw how many places you can get my recordings for free. I’m just going with the flow. Exposure is exposure, but artist royalty statements can be a real sobering read! haha
And as a follow up question, for your own listening pleasure, which do you prefer vinyl or CD?
I like listening to vinyl on the stereo and mp3s [preferably 320] on the headphones. I like a mix of the old and new. I’m not a purist.
Finally, what music is on your current playlist?
The Wipers, Incantation, Autopsy, Captain Beefheart, Early Van Halen, Peste Noire, Cynic DEMO ’90 [thank you internets!], Nirvana, German Oak, Old Darkthrone, PJ Harvey, Mind Eraser, Born Against/Wrangler Brutes, White Shit, Danzig, Death Breath, Honor Role, Soundgarden, ZZ Top, Agents of Oblivion and of course, KISS [even “The Elder”!] and as I type MGLA
Thanks for the interview Ryan and please use this space for any final words…
Thanks to everyone who appreciates any of the music I create.
Next up: Unearthly Trance Full length on Relapse, The Howling Wind Full Length on Profound Lore, New Pollution recordings, a NEW non-black metal project with Jaldagar/Jared of Thralldom called “The Mentu Dynasty” and last a ambient collaboration called “MKRL”.
More info on Unearthly Trance at: www.unearthlytrance.com
Interviewed by: Lee Edwards