Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Column of Heaven interview

Column Of Heaven interview - Incidental Afterthought zine #15, February 2012 (Philippines)

INCIDENTAL AFTERTHOUGHT: Like most new bands I discover (especially on my own), how and when did Column of Heaven start? Current line-up?  

COLUMN OF HEAVEN: Nothing very interesting to tell, current line-up is King. Kristiansen. Nolan. Simpson. Formed in our minds 2010, but didn’t even rehearse until 2011.

Three of us have played in various bands together for a few years now (The Endless Blockade, Slaughter Strike, Death Agonies and others).

Simpson is someone I’ve known for a while; we asked him to play guitar when Ward had to leave the band.

IA: You've stated on your blog that shows won't be a regular thing with Column of Heaven, too. Do you guys live in different cities/countries from each other?

COH: Quite by accident we all live pretty close to each other. A lack of regular live outings is mostly due to a lack of time, frequently due to a lack of energy, and definitely due to a lack of money.

I find the more I play songs live the less invested in them I am; it's almost as if they're (the songs) moving too far away from their initial spark of creation for me to remain interested in them.

Every band I've ever played in has retired songs from the live set fairly quickly once new ones are written.

IA: I really admire your generosity of spreading your music by posting it on your blog (complete with its artwork cover and lyrics, too), but the tape copies sold out fast. I guess my question is, Column of Heaven has shown (in my eyes at least) a total passion toward DIY underground by releasing its music first in tangible form (cassette tape), and then after it all sold out, gives it literally for free online. That's the idea of why I really like the underground network of DIY-released music, the idea of communal ideas, not just being entertained; however, as you might have known, I'm sure, people have developed an attitude that's sheep consumerism in nature, so to speak. What are your thoughts as to why underground music in general (not just hardcore) have been plagued by this (for example, shitty bands releasing 3-colored versions of their 7"s that goes for insane amounts on Ebay; people buying records for the 'bragging' entitlements due to limited copies/rare color, etc.)?

COH: OK, I’ll try and answer this question as best as I can. I think I read four points here; one about giving our music away for free, one about music – or more specifically the culture of music – not just being entertainment, one about consumerism in the underground and a final one about the politics of limited edition releases, which to me has two different responses, depending on whether or not it’s from a creator or consumer perspective.

I posted the Ecstatically Embracing release online once I'd sold all the copies that we made (200 in total). I'd sold all the copies we made and even if I was completely precious about limited releases being only heard by the 200 people that bought them – which I'm not – I can't stop people uploading it so others can download it.

If I can't stop people downloading it for free then I may as well make it available in a lossless format, not some awful lo-bit rate rip done on substandard equipment. And if everyone did this with their music eventually download blogs would die out because there would be no need for them.

Yes, we're totally committed to DIY principles, less out of any flag waving, chest beating idealism, and more because we realize that most of the time it's easier and more gratifying if we do it ourselves. This is also the approach we take with live shows, we'd rather only work with one or two local promoters or just book everything ourselves. Basically, our band is something that's important to us, so we don’t leave it at the mercy of people not up to the job. Obviously nothing's set in stone and compromises have to be made sometimes.

The value that I place in music is primarily in the culture that surrounds music; nothing happens in a vacuum. That cultural sphere isn't really "entertaining" in any traditional sense, but something has to bring you in to that sphere. If there's nothing entertaining about music, no one's going to care about it, people don't just like Whitehouse because it makes them uncomfortable after all. Most people don't think this way and that's fine, I know what my motivations are and where my passions and interests lie, if someone else is into whatever they're into purely because it feels good then that's absolutely valid as well, but in any underground culture – by which I mean any art form that does not have money as its motivator – there's always an extra level beyond the superficial aspects. Part of the struggles are always who has the right to interpret what that extra level means, see any discussion about Liturgy and whether or not they're actually black metal for example.

If we can think of underground music in terms of having multiple levels of meaning to it – even if you don't agree that music means anything beyond the sound itself there are people in the world that act as if it does – then there are multiple ways that people extract that meaning. One of the ways of extracting deeper meaning is always going to be through ownership; music means more than just sound, music creates artefacts like records and shirts, those artefacts are sometimes consumed because it is believed that they contain the essence of that extra meaning. To put it more simply; sometimes people buy things because they think it gives them a higher status in whatever hierarchy they operate on.

To get to the final point and try and connect this back again (thanks for your patience). Bands create limited editions for a number of reasons. One of those is because music doesn't sell very well anymore so you have to "force" the hand of the consumer to buy directly from you and not from a distro or store. At shows bands sell merch primarily because they need money to put into their gas tank. If you sell a 7" with a limited sleeve only available from you at that show, then you're more likely to sell them than if people can buy them online. And if limited editions give bragging rights (as you identify): "that's cool that you downloaded the entire back catalogue of [insert band name], but I own this record and you'll never even see a copy of it."

At its most simplistic level, limited releases for the band it's just another tool of for selling music, for the consumer it's a way of feeling a closer connection with that band by "owning" a part of their creation.

IA: I really like the Noise-aesthetics that Column of Heaven incorporates into its music. I know this might be incorrect to some but your music truly sound unique and innovative because of this. Was this incorporation of approach consciously in the band or did it just come naturally? (I love your Joshua Norton Cabal Inner Light CD by the way, great forward-thinking stuff)  

COH: Thanks for your kind words. The addition of noise isn't really for any goal of uniqueness or innovation; it's just something that makes sense. Non-traditional sound as music ("noise" etc) has been a part of my sonic interests for as long I've been interested in music. The recording process is still another compositional step as far as I'm concerned, so I use the recording time to figure out if there's anything else I can add to a piece before walking away from it forever (bar performing those songs live of course).

IA: How is Column of Heaven's music/song writing-process? Is it in a collaborative way or is there a main-songwriter?   

COH: It’s pretty much a benevolent dictatorship really; I write all the music, though there’s a loose process with King where we talk in incredibly vague terms about what we want to do before I go off and write it all.

At this point I haven’t played with another drummer for seven years now, so we’re pretty in tune with each other’s style and approach to music. 

Having input from the rest of the band is important, but I’m not really a fan of collaborative writing; it’s just not how I work. I think all bands need one, at most two, people directing the music, but everyone needs to be on the same page and trust that the person whose responsibility it is to do the music, or aesthetics, isn’t going to fuck it up.

The actual music writing process is undoubtedly boring as hell to outsiders, but I’m pretty much writing exclusively in additive rhythms these days, I like the dissociative aspects of that kind of playing.

"Jamming" is something I can't get my head around; to me it's like aimlessly doodling with a pencil and hoping to come up with the Mona Lisa. There was only one Austin Osman Spare after all (and he worked alone anyway).

IA: Your lyrics on Ecstatically Embracing all... are very powerful in their own. I am a big fan of poetry/prose as well and  I get a different kick when I read lyrics of a band I like musically; it's like hitting a mental bird with two stones. Are your lyrics in Column of Heaven a collaborative effort as well? Are they written together with the music or independently from it? 

COH: I was handling all the vocals on the demo, so I wrote all the lyrics, Kristiansen is doing that now and it's better if he writes the lyrics from this point on. We talk about concepts and directions, but the ultimate form the lyrics take are going to be his sole responsibility from here on in. As much as it might pain me, I can't control every single aspect of the creative process, otherwise people would get fed up and leave.

I try to operate on a level where there's a clearly defined aesthetic and consistency to each release, musically and lyrically, so it's important for me that we get that right. Most people don't care about lyrics anymore, and who can blame them really, most of them are trite at best and garbage at worst. Which isn’t to say I see myself as some kind of Oscar Wilde of hardcore, far from it, I feel everything I write falls short of what I actually want to say, thanks for the compliment though.

IA: It is very difficult (literally) to get into the kind of reading like Howard Bloom here in our country and it could be because of a combination of geography and access per se (even in the advent of the internet). I eventually have been looking up Howard Bloom's work because of Column of Heaven when you sampled him on your song "The Future Of War" and I must say that as I grow older, getting into underground music still feels very rewarding and profound to me on a personal level (on top of the music kick I get; never the color of vinyl, scarcity of CD run, etc). Do you still feel the same as well when in a similar situation (of getting into a newly-discovered band I mean)?

COH: I’m still very much enthralled by music and literature and have never really gown out of that sense of marvel at coming across something new and exciting. I’m not rabidly enthusiastic about everything I hear, but I’m perpetually being introduced to, or finding, music and writing that gives some sense of perspective and meaning to my life.

IA: Lastly, could you tell me something about your upcoming releases? Any plans for a full-length album perhaps?

COH: We’re currently working on our second release, Mission from God, SPHC from Washington DC is releasing it as a 12”; we’ve struggled to find the time to get together and track the drums, but since starting this interview we found the time to get the drums done.

After that we’re doing a split 7” with Drainland from Ireland [Radioactive Vomit] and a 7”, called Of Dogs and Wolves, on English label Hemlock 13. I’ve written bits and pieces for those two records but want to get Mission from God out of the way before I start thinking about those.

There’s talk of a full length with a label I’ve worked with in the past, I feel like I need to get a few shorter records out of my system first before I try and tackle another full length, it’s been a few years since I had to write one.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this, you've hit on a lot of the ideas/process discussion related here in posts and other interviews, but this one expanded on all of that nicely. Looking forward to all future material.

Any possibility of death agonies material showing up on the bandcamp?

Survivalist said...

The problem with Death Agonies is that i don't necessarily have all the original files to upload without having to rip from the tapes (and i think i'm missing one or two of those as well).

When (actually, if) we release anything new, that will all make its way onto bandcamp.

Some of the Death Agonies material i had been working on on my own is being slowly reabsorbed back into Column of Heaven.

We had started writing and recording some material that i thought was very promising a year ago, but it's currently languishing in the 20% finished zone, seemingly untouchable and lost to the world...

Pure said...

Good to know you rule with an ironfist.

equalizingxdistort said...

The way these guys refer to each other by last name only is very Pissed happy Children-ish of them or should I say Bastard Noise of them. It reminds me of how my Grade 13 Chemistry teacher, a former drill sargeant in the Navy tourned priest, used to bark at us by last name only. Very military like. Guess it fits in with the Army of God theme.

Pure said...


Pretty sure Eric Wood was in the navy, maybe it just stuck.

Survivalist said...

Steph, I like that it's equally formal and anonymous and fits in with my aesthetic of refusing to credit anyone as being anything beyond a last name placed in an alphabetized list on every recording.

And i don't know about anyone else but until about the age of 20 only my family or girlfriends called me by my first name.