How would you describe your music?
Andrew: Our music draws from a few genres pretty aggressively. You can hear the heavier side of prog and post-rock as a foundation, and other influences that let us expand or experiment with that core sound – things like jazz, psychedelic rock, and math. I love taking elements of anything I’m finding interesting in music at the time, and creating something that is initially angular, weird, maybe even incoherent from those, and gradually turning that into something rhythmic, intriguing, and musical. People often say we sound like The Mars Volta meets Pelican, or Dillinger meets Mastodon, or a recent one that I really like – Mahavishnu Orchestra meets Captain Beefheart on crack. That all seems fair – I think I can see where people are coming from with that.
Tell us about how the history of the project?
Andrew: This project initially started as a personal, solo experiment for me. It was a way for me to explore song writing – and frankly speaking, how I gradually learned to play guitar. Since then there have been a lot of changes – the project doesn’t even resemble its earlier phases. In 2016 Travis Baker (drums) and Zack Krishtalka (bass) joined me, and most recently, David Sandoval (guitar) came with us on tour this past summer to support the release of our new album, ‘Consteleid‘.
What are your influences/ musical heroes?
Andrew: Like a lot of people, I think my influences and tastes shift and change over time. Early on I was just completely enthralled with Omar Rodriguez Lopez – and I think the impact of his approach to writing and his style of playing are pretty apparent in some facets of how I come to music. Lately, I’m really taken with Tigran Hamasyan, Poil, and Piniol. Piniol in particular are just so fucking masterful at taking what seem like simple musical ideas, and setting them in relation to one another in ways that reveal this really intriguing, deeply thoughtful compositional ability. Songs like Mimolle and Pikiwa are just brilliant in my opinion – they’re like the crystal meth of musical experiences, it’s overwhelming, intense stuff, and it can seem impossible to go back from.
What inspires you?
Andrew: Individuals that come to music in prolific, dedicated ways, and in ways that allow for change and growth, that seem to honour their particular aesthetic and orientation to music – that’s are a powerful influence and inspiration for me. At the same time, as I’ve written more and more music over the years, I’m finding that very non-musical things inspire me to write; studying and speaking Japanese, reading about physics or neurology, or mycology, or political economy, working on sociology-leaning projects with my partner – these kinds of things indirectly and directly create different kinds of inspiration and thought to pour into songwriting and music.
Do you write on the road? Or do you prefer to write in the studio?
Andrew: I never write on the road, and I can’t even really conceive of doing that to be honest. That seems like a crazy privilege that’s just out of my reach at this time. I can’t imagine having enough time or resources in one place to be able to get any meaningful ideas down. Frankly, we’re all just trying to get a minimum amount of sleep and connect with people from show to show on tour. So my preference and approach has pretty much always been to write at my home studio.
What is your favourite song to perform live?
Andrew: ‘Infora’ – off of our most recent album – is probably my favourite song to play right now. It has a few moments where we go just fucking nuts, and a few places that has the audience being bombarded with this riff that feels both really angular and powerful, but musical and accessible despite it being kind of overwhelming.
What would be your dream tour to be a part of?
Andrew: I think we’d want to tour with Pinoil. We all have a massive amount of respect for those guys (the supergroup of Poil and Ni), we’re all inspired by what they’re doing musically, and I think our styles have a really complimentary contrast that would make for a really interesting lineup for people.
What are you current thoughts on the music industry?
Andrew. Many. I think at the broadest scale, if we’re talking about trying to create livelihoods and incentivizing or supporting creativity in pragmatic, realizable, financial ways – I don’t think anyone would suggest the music industry achieves that goal. I think it’s important to recognize a few of the reasons as to why that happens as well: the conventional infrastructure and private, corporate interests that monopolize and distribute the resources and wealth generated through music have a set function, and specific incentives. That older model is designed to generate profit for private, shareholder interests. For that to work, it has to artificially create barriers of access and entry – and distribute things like access and resources selectively amongst themselves – and that system is only going to do that with and for things that are understood as relatively safe, stable investments. For that same reason, it’s saturated. Completely. There’s no real room in a music-as-commodity model for new artists to enter that space – not in any way that has to do with merits. If you’re trying to pair creativity and musical expression with the prerequisite that it’s also a ‘safe, stable investment’, you’re going to get a certain spectrum of results. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it gives you a framework to understand why certain trends in the music industry are so predominant and powerful, why some things don’t seem to appear or manifest, and why some things that initially seem inconsistent (e.g. “that band is incredible, why aren’t they signed”), fit pretty comfortably within that model.
If that’s the macroscale of music for profit as a commercial commodity in it, you’ve got a sub-industry of sales and consumption targeting artists and musicians who sit on the periphery or outside of that system (think Guitar Center, Sonicbids and Reverbnation – independent artist promotional platforms in general, large parts of music’s PR industry). It’s a specialized section of the music industry that largely sells certain kinds of services or limited access to the commercial music industry’s more visible areas. For some that’s a way to increase visibility and their fan base, but largely it generates its profits off of the ambitions of hopes of independent, unsigned musicians, and changes very little for the musicians that are trying to use what look like points of entry – but are largely their own industry targeting those very musicians. It’s also limited in how effective it can be in raising visibility and awareness of new music – because one thing it’s not going to do is upset the privileged access. That’s not necessarily a shitty thing either – but again, it results in certain kinds of patterns, certain kinds of results.
So what we’ve got is a music industry that is extremely talent-saturated, and is built on an older model of monetization that keeps redirecting and subsuming new innovations in distribution and access. If you look at that broad scale of music – the lens that holds both the mainstream, the musician-services industry, and the independent industry and local scenes – it can create the impression that it encourages “genuine” or “authentic” creativity due to competition. That those that “really want it” or whose music is somehow qualitatively superior is what rises to the surface in that environment. I hear some independent musicians not just echo this understanding, but even celebrate it. That what you get in a system that doesn’t materially support creative works is somehow assuring that the people that are doing it, do it because they love it – they love the music, it’s their passion. “Authenticity and sincerity matter, are best secured doing things this way”, is what seems to be suggested in that view. But that seems like just absolute bullshit to me, and takes the idea of poverty and strife and authentic creativity as mutually exclusive values. I don’t think that’s something to celebrate – I even think it perpetuates some of the ugliest aspects of the music industry.
The idea that competition within creative efforts fuels ‘better creation’, and the reality of the scarcity and difficulty that exists in terms of making a living creating music or creating art both seem pretty disconnected and distracted from the issue. I don’t think it takes very much reflection for anyone to look at the top 40 charts of any mainstream music to find examples of both brilliance and absolute derivative garbage – so it’s difficult to continue making the argument that the current system creates a better result. And we can found countless examples of musicians with and without secure financial livelihoods who sit anywhere on the spectrum of not giving a shit about the music they’re selling, to being profoundly connected to their experience of creating and sharing their music. So what you’ve got ultimately, is a system that is pro-competition, pro-scarcity and exclusivity, and pretty anti-music in a lot material, pragmatic, meaningful ways. Spinning that as positive just seems like a symptom of a very false value system, and it’s damaging to most of the unsigned, independent musicians. The one major positive I see in this system actually has nothing to do with the system itself; it’s the idea that – despite such a saturated, competitive, and statistically impossible space to succeed in supporting yourself financially, people still have such a profound and powerful desire to express and share themselves, that they’ll participate and try regardless of how fucked the circumstances are. There’s something really heartening and beautiful about that. And it’s not the music industry should be celebrated for that – it’s not fostering that spirit, it’s threatening it on systematic level. Despite all of that, people persist, they go on creating. That’s intensely inspiring.
I think it’s crucial that musicians and consumers alike recognize those general trends, and then ask themselves, “what kind society do I want to be a part of? what kind of creative environment do I want to see, what kind of creativity do I want to support? how do I actually do that? how does that work? what’s actually happening”. I don’t think there’s an inherently ‘wrong’ answer to that question, but I think criticism about that system, or about a lack of creativity in the mainstream, or railing on pop music, or insisting that people “support local” – any of these pieces taken in isolation just kind of misses some of the broader realities of how we come to music in the 21st century. That doesn’t mean you don’t “support local”, or that you don’t have an opinion; I think it means you understand why precisely one would do that, and then square that against all of your other behaviours and beliefs surrounding music, creativity, and living in a consumer-capitalist society.
If we’re living in a consumer-based society, and we don’t want to materially support artists in the way that we support every other facet of society in this kind of system, we can expect a certain kind of result – we’ll get exactly what we’re getting right now. If people want that to change, a lot of things are possible if we’re willing to rethink some things. We subsidize all kinds of things in the US – things that most people wouldn’t support if they knew and understood the nature and extent of what some of their tax dollars are supporting. There’s absolutely the room and resources to subsidize something like music, or the creative arts more generally – and to decouple the idea of ‘good music’ being wedded to shareholder outcomes. So it’s a much bigger issue than just sizing up the nature of the industry. I think answering that question involves looking to the implications of our actions, or lack of actions in some ways, and making an informed choice about what we want and what we believe in. And in this case, what we think music and creative expression means to us as individuals, as communities, as a society, and how we want to support and foster those values
What is the funniest/weirdest experience you have had on tour?
Andrew: A few years ago, I climbed Pinto Mountain with an older lineup in the band – Tyler Mehaffey and Trent Utley. We played a show at House of Blues Hollywood, finished loading out at like 2 in the morning, and then decided to drive to Phoenix the same night to get the drive out of the way. We ended sleeping for a few hours at a truck stop just outside of Joshua Tree National Park on the way, and then, very ambitiously, and very stupidly of us, we thought it would be an awesome idea to go into the park and see if we could climb a mountain before continuing to Phoenix. At sunrise we drove around for maybe half an hour, found a scenic view that had this informational placard displaying Mt. Pinto. Being the outdoorsmen that we were, we sized up the distance and figured we could get to the base, climb to the top, and return in maybe three hours. We fucked up, real, real bad on that one.
We went through all of our water and gas station trail mix in the first three hours, and over the next two hours, we managed to scramble our way up maybe 3/4 of the climb. We thought it would be an equally solid idea to get high once we decided we weren’t going to climb up any further. Needless to say, it was much more difficult to get down the mountain than it was to get up – and we ended up going down a boulder-dense route that we hadn’t come up on. There were a few moments where we thought we just couldn’t get back down – not anytime quickly. When we finally got back down to the base of the mountain, Tyler stepped on a cactus that perfectly pierced his calf in a way that looked like a snake bite (and absolutely yes – we panicked pretty intensely for a moment; there was some talk of sucking venom out before we knew what was going on). The entire two hour hike from the base back to the van, we kept slipping and having our feet sink into these loose holes in the ground – which we later discovered were tarantula burrows. Woof. We pissed in fate’s face for sure that day. So very stupid. I remember that whole experience really fondly though – it’s just one of those exceptional tour experiences that had nothing to do with music and everything to do with (perhaps like jackasses) embracing what was right in front of us.
What are your future plans?
Andrew: 2019 is going to be exciting for us. We’re releasing a new video for in January that we filmed in Denver on our past tour, I’ve begun writing the next album, and we’re planning on doing an east coast tour this summer.
After Nations is:
Andrew Elliott – guitar
David Sandoval – guitar
Travis Baker – drums
Zack Krishtalka – bass