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Dunnock Interview (Raw Black Metal: California, USA)

Dunnock logoBerkley, California may not sound a very dark place for a Black Metal band to rise, but that’s where DUNNOCK comes from. Their music is raw, experimental and signals their eclectic influences. They also run the ACEPHALE WINTER label, home of Dhampyr, that was recently interviewed by Mondo Satania.

Please, describe the music and aesthetics of Dunnock.

We’re a raw black metal project from Berkeley, CA comprised primarily of two musicians who come for the most part from none black metal backgrounds.  We’ve previously played punk rock, metal, bluegrass, indie  rock, classical, electronic, noise, ambient, and experimental music  either together or apart in the course of the past 20 years.

I think that these experiences playing other types of music probably inform how we play in Dunnock, consciously or not.  In many ways I think we approach black metal as innocents rather than scene lifers.  I also took a five year break from music to focus on writing Bukowski inspired poetry, which is probably reflected in my lyrics.

All together I think this adds up to a rather unconventional black metal band.  But since the black metal scene, especially out here in the West Coast of the US, has lately been full of unconventional projects, perhaps we’re more mainstream than I realize.

As far as aesthetics go, Aidan is primarily in charge of that, and he does a wonderful job with the art direction.  This isn’t surprising since that actually what he does for a living in the real world.

We also try to make a point of not presenting ourselves as anything we’re not.  We’re normal guys.  We don’t wear corpse paint or giant spikey gauntlets or anything of the sort.  We’re not trolls or mythic warriors living in the forest.  We’re not ancient Vikings or pagan heroes of legends.

I want to be clear that we have nothing against any band that explores these aesthetics in their art, music, or promotional materials.  There are so many great corpse paint bands out there.  It’s just not who we are and it would be dishonest to pretend otherwise.

What’s the meaning behind the band’s name? I did a little research and it’s a bird’s name, which doesn’t sound very black metal-ish.

Well, we know going into this that we weren’t going to be a traditional black metal band, so we wanted to pick a name that wasn’t conventionally black metal.

It also has significance for us in that before we were making black metal we played in an ambient/experimental/krautrock project called Accentor, which is named after a genus of passerine song birds.  Dunnocks are a kind of accentor, and I saw this project as kind of evolving from that one.  I also have a harsh noise solo project called Tyrant Flycatcher, which is named after another species of song birds.

There’s also some perverse irony in having harsh, noisy projects named after cute little songbirds, so that’s a factor too.

At a first listening I thought you were a one-man band, but looking at the credits, you’re a duo and often have some guest musicians as well. What’s is the composing and recording process for you guys?

I write and perform 90% of the music myself and then give what I’ve created to Aidan and whoever else we’re working with so that they can contribute.  Generally, most of our collaborators are non-musicians, people I know from my home town in West Virginia.

Now having said that, while I do play most of the music myself, Aidan has a very large role in deciding how things end up in their final version.  I hold his opinion very highly, and if I show him three different versions of something, the one that gets released into the world is probably going to be the one that he picked.

In the music world we don’t really have editors like in film or literature.  I guess maybe they did in the 60s and 70s and called them “producers,” but that doesn’t quite describe his role since he doesn’t handle any of the audio technicalities.   Either way, though, he spends a lot of time listening to my terrible ideas and saving me from myself.

On the song “Jan 28th” (from the Intergalactic Holocaust split), beneath all the harshness of the guitars and distorted vocals, I can hear a nice melody that blends with the lead chaos. Was this blend of total madness noise with this melody intentional? What you were trying to create there?

I love brutally raw and noisy black metal as well as out and out blacknoise like Sutekh Hexen and WOLD.  Some of my favorite projects though, are those bands that mix the lo-fi aesthetics with an undercurrent of shoegaze-y melody.  Velvet Cacoon, for example, are an act who’s shadow loom large over everything I do, though I don’t really consider myself worthy of making comparisons to them.

Dhampyr are another band that I have loved for a long time that I think have completely mastered this balancing act.  It was a gigantic privilege to be able to release their music on my label and obviously an even bigger privilege to be asked to collaborate with them.

As far as the song “Jan 28th” in specific, that track is about the Challenger disaster.  Now a lot of people think that those astronauts died when the thrusters blew up, but from what I understand they actually survived the explosion and remained alive and conscious in the cabin of shuttle as it fell for several minutes.

I guess if I was trying to intentionally evoke anything with the music, it would be that amongst all the terror and death and destruction of that day there were also those beautiful last moments of soaring through the air above the water, perhaps even a sense of freedom there, despite the fact that they were locked fatally in the grip of gravity.

Apart from melody you use other elements, like the woodwinds on the first track and the latin drums on the third one. Where do you get these influences from? And how did you get this idea to mix those organic folklorical elements to your raw lofi black metal and even mix with an electronic vibe?

As I mentioned before, we’re played a lot of different kinds of music over the years, and while I own thousands of black metal records, I also consume a whole lot of different genres of music.  This morning, just for example, I listened to the first Die Krupps record, the krautrock band Metabolismus, and a collection of early 20th century 78s called “Sprigs of Time.”

I think it’s probably inevitable that the things that musicians listen to in their free time will filter down to some degree into the music they make.  Unless, of course, there’s some active effort taken to stop it.  Since Dunnock are not in any way interested in being KVLT or TRUE, and since we don’t really even believe in genre purity anyway (at least not for ourselves), we’re willing to indulge some very not black metal urges when they pop up.

I don’t think the occasional Latin drum break is going to make the end product any less black metal anyway.  Other people might disagree, and that’s fine.  There’s a lot of amazing bands out there that folks can listen to if they don’t want to listen to us.

Besides Dunnock, you also play in Dhampyr and run the Acephale Winter label. How do you manage to keep up with all those projects? What’s your main one?
I’m not so sure that I do manage to keep up with everything.  In addition to all of this I also have Tyrant Flycatcher, which might actually be my most prolific project at the moment, Accentor, a new blacknoise collaboration called In The Midst of Wolves, and a couple other bands that I contribute to anonymously.  I also have a full time job.

As far as priorities  go, after the job and my marriage, which are the top priorities in my life, Acephale Winter Productions probably comes next (just because there’s deadlines to consider), with my contributions to Dhampyr being a close second.  Dunnock and everything else tend to be gotten to when I get to them, but that’s okay.  Aidan and I have released a lot of music together in the past couple years, and there’s plenty more in the bag.

What’s the benefits of having a totally underground label nowadays, apart of being able to release your own music? Is it rewardable?

If you mean financially rewarding, then no.  Not at all.  This may be a golden age for underground music, but the music industry in general has fallen on hard times.  When even big “indies” like Hydra Head can’t afford to stay in business, it makes it a money pit for the rest of us.  Now a really fun money pit, mind you, but a money pit all the same.  Now I’m sure there are labels out there in the underground that are turning a profit, but I think they are few and far between.

When I look at this label (and our sublabel PSALM 88) as a hobby though, then it becomes really rewarding.  There are tapes available in stores right now that maybe wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for me deciding to release them.  There are bands that have worked with us that have gone on to work with bigger and better labels after the attention our releases got them.  That feels really really good.  Whenever this all wraps up and I put AWP to bed, I can feel like I contributed positively to the scene.

You have plenty of releases so far. What’s your discography so far and what are you planning to release in the future?

Do you mean releases as Dunnock?  Or AWP/PSALM 88 releases?

As Dunnock we’ve had:
-Promo 2013 (digital single, self-released)
-A Forest of Shattered Promise (cassette full-length, AWP)
-Promo 2014 (cassette EP, PSALM 88)
-The Rainy Season (cassette EP, Sylvan Screams Analog, my favorite thing we’ve done)
-Dunnock/Intergalactic Holocaust Split (CD full-length, Temptations of Resonance)

Acephale Winter Productions has released:
-Dunnock-The Rainy Season (cassette)
-Ringbearer-The Dark Side of the Mountain (cassette)
-Despot-Cold Deliverance (digital reissue)
-Die Entweihung-The Cage (cassette)
-Infera Bruo-Desolate Unknown (cassette)
-Synsophony-Karmic Existence (digital)
-Moloch-Depressive Black Metal Plague (cassette)
-Barrowlands-Demo 2012 (cassette)
-Nefas Terra-Life in Darkness (cassette)
-Funeral Fornication-Fornography (cassette)
-Dhampyr-Withdrawals & Candy Heavens (cassette)
-Synsophony-Rabbit Hole (cassette)
-Moloch-Verwustung (cassette)
-Die Entweihung-Despair Division (cassette)
-The End-You Made The Rain Disappear… (digital reissue)
-Sleep Deprived-Transcendence Through Bonding of Psychedelic Phenomenon (cassette)
-Obsidian Tongue/In Human Form/Autolatry/Infera Bruo-Northeastern Hymns (digital split)

On the horizon AWP will soon be releasing Dhampyr’s amazing Oceanclots in multiple formats including cassette, CD, and double cassette editions.  We’ll also be putting Northeastern Hymns out on cassette plus new releases from Xarkrinur, Happiness Through Suicide, Cold Internal Corrosion, and Twilight Fauna.

As for PSALM 88, we’ve released (all cassette EPs)
-Dunnock-Promo 2014
-Xarkrinur-Dark Rituals
-Die Entweihung-The Last Shelter
-Behold Darkness-I
Tokul-Alpine Graves

So far the focus of PSALM 88 has been raw black metal and blacknoise, but I’d like to stretch out into experimental, industrial techno, breakcore, and maybe even Appalachian folk music in the future.  Basically anything harsh or dark that I happen to personally enjoy.

9. Thanks for the interview, now the word is yours.

Thanks for the thoughtful questions.  It’s obvious you did some research.  I just want to thank everyone in the underground (and I don’t just mean the metal underground) who’s doing something, whether playing in a band, or running a label, or writing a blog or zine.  This is what has kept the scene alive to this point, and what will keep the scene alive whenever the mainstream music press and advertising agencies move onto the new flavor of the week.

Mondo Satania: Black Metal worldwide is on Facebook.

Are you in a band too? Get in touch with us.

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