So Anicon as it’s come to be was formed by both Owen and Nolan, correct? When you both originally met, what was the initial conversation and concept discussed in regards to project? Was there a general consensus had as to what you both were looking to do, or was it more you guys both clicked and decided to go from there?
Owen: Nolan and I met at a friend’s going away party by chance. There was initially no talk about music. It was just pretty straightforward bullshitting with someone you had just met. I had actually just had my first practice earlier that day with Trenchgrinder ,so that was still fresh on my mind. Nolan mentioned that he had been living in New York for about four or five years and hadn’t really met anyone to play music with, which I could relate to, since I had been in the same boat.
Nolan: I remember when I got the email afterwards from Owen about meeting up at his place. I lugged my laptop and three guitars right after a blizzard had hit the city. I couldn’t find his apartment, so I just called him and asked him to meet me at my place. He ended up coming over and showing me the Trenchgrinder practice he had recorded. We ended up playing some stuff on guitar and coming up with some ideas.
Had you two initially discussed doing a Black Metal project before actually sitting down?
Nolan: You know, we actually didn’t even really talk about doing a “Black Metal” project that much.
Owen: Nolan mentioned at the party that he had a solo project he was working on with some of the stuff online. I checked it out and that ended up being the impetus for me emailing him. I liked it, it was all really cool and I could play some of the stuff. At the time, I had a bunch of riffs that I had been working on and I wasn’t really sure what to do them. They had amassed and I felt like it needed to turn into something. When I went over to his place, he immediately wanted to start recording, which kind of put me on the spot. I didn’t realize that we were going straight into it.
Nolan: It was pretty effortless. There wasn’t too much talk about dissecting the parts of the songs. We recorded our ideas together, going back and forth. Critiquing our recordings. It got to a point where we had the guitars and bass recorded. Owen had a friend that we thought could do drums for it, but it ended up falling through. So the drums ended up being programmed and sounded pretty solid when we were done. Those songs ended up being the first EP.
Later on after the initial release of your EP, you guys settled down on a more permanent line up featuring Lev Weinstein and Alexander DeMaria on drums and bass respectively. Was this a conscious decision in anticipation of the future, or was it a more fluid move, like it was meant to be in regards to their technical skill matching what you two had envisioned?
Owen: We put the EP out and floated it to a few people and friends, among them being Lev. We hadn’t discussed doing anything live yet, but it was in the back of our heads I think. My hope was that we would send it to Lev and he would be interested, which is what happened, thankfully. Regardless of his skills on the drums, I wanted his opinion on it as well. I had also sent the EP to Alex before it was finished, as we’ve been friends for a long time. He has a great ear for things and I wanted his critical opinion on it as well.
Lev: I think you sent it to me on Facebook. I remember getting it and thinking, “Ok, cool. I should listen to this. It’s my buddy’s band.” After hearing it, I thought it was really fucking good. I remember not just being really into the riffs but the drum programming as well. Their attempts at making it sound naturalistic, which is really hard to do on a drum machine, was really impressive, and I decided that it was something that would be fun for me to play.
All photos by Nathaniel Shannon
More so, with their addition into the band, was there a chance in chemistry in regards to song writing?
Nolan: It used to be Owen and I bringing stuff or giant parts to the table, but since Lev and Alex have joined, we have definitely moved away from that now. We’ll come to practice with some guitar riffs, bring it to the table for everyone to hear and dissect. Lev and Alex have been awesome about bringing their own ideas and thoughts into the band since their initial involvement. I think we have a much more organic feel now that they’re both fully integrated into the band.
Lev and Alexander, what was about the original material that Owen and Nolan had recorded that led you both to the decision to join?
Lev: Off the bat, I just found it really engaging. From the perspective of riffs, song structure, transitions and as I had mentioned the drum programming they had done, I was just really into the music and I was kind of looking for something else to work on. I like to keep pretty busy with life. This seemed like it would fulfill a really satisfying space, something I could really sink my teeth into. Owen and I have been friends for a while now, but I didn’t know the other two. From the get go, it was clear that we were all going to get along, which is so important in a band.
Alex: Even before I had joined the band, I had been hanging out with Nolan and Owen for awhile. I had been telling them that if they ever wanted to play live that I’d like to play bass for them. At that point, they didn’t know if they ever were going to do it live. In the end, I am really pleased that this worked out and I get to play with these guys.
With the the split with Belus already out and the upcoming release of your self-titled EP this year on Dead Section Records, you guys have also completed writing material for a full length. Care to give any insights into what people can expect from this first proper album?
Lev: I think the split with Belus is a pretty good indicator as to where things are going, at least to my ears. The songs are getting a little more ambitious both in terms of length and structure but not really straying in any super alien way from the stuff we’ve done before. I think that with Nolan and Owen, their individual senses of melody coalesce nicely and are becoming more prevalent. As well as Alex’s involvement now with the band; one of the new songs is all him. The songs aren’t exactly short, so it’s not like we need a ton of new stuff to fill an album.
Owen: Definitely. We have more than enough ideas right now for a full length. At this point it’s just fleshing everything out.
Nolan: One thing I am really looking forward to in recording the full length is that the songs are going to be more dynamic. With Alex and Lev now in the band, it adds so much more life to the sound.
Was the writing portion for the full length something that you guys had problems with or did you take it head on with excitement?
Lev: We’ve been just trucking along with it, it’s been really smooth actually.
Alex: It’s been a steady stream of new songs. We’re always working on new things together and always have new ideas waiting to be worked on as a group. We might work on one song for a few practices, and as it starts to come together go on to another one that we had in queue, which is kinda nice in that respect.
Owen: There was a point where Alex was in Finland for about three months, so we couldn’t really play live. Essentially, we just kept working on everything together, emailing it to Alex and keeping in constant contact with him about what we were doing. So that time period ended up being us just creating blue prints for what was going to be our new material. Afterwards, when Alex was back and we got everything situated with the new stuff we went on tour with Yellow Eyes. Most of the songs we played during those shows were new with maybe one song from the split being incorporated.
Anicon / Belus Split LP cover artwork by Jack Schneider
For those that aren’t really into or familiar with Black Metal (or just underground metal in general), there seems to be this almost ignorant view as to the intensity and musical skill needed to perform within this style of music. For all the critics out there, for those that really can’t or refuse to wrap their heads around what you guys are doing, how would you explain the concept behind your music? In addition to that, was it a deliberate move to step away from the Corpse Paint and standard issue Black Metal image for you guys, into a less traditional image for what people think of it?
Owen: Well, the way this whole project started, it was more about writing good music. It was a matter of writing stuff that resonated with us in a visceral way. That was really the only aim of it. Even when recording the EP, it wasn’t just about recording, it was a drive to create something. For me personally, playing music is about tapping into something that is outside the realm of words and images. It’s a way of communicating the abstract. Be that a range of emotions or a way of seeing or thinking, and that’s just a vague generalization of what it really taps into. As for the musicianship, it’s not easy to play, but it really doesn’t matter to me if someone understands that or not. They’ll hear it or see it or they won’t.
Lev: I think there’s something there as far as maybe the whole idea of a concept. It’s more of a verbal notion than a musical one. What makes bands healthy, what makes music engaging is not necessarily having some sort of ethos in mind. It’s about playing music. It often gets lost in pageantry and aesthetics and whatever else. That’s not really what it’s about. It’s about what you’re actually creating musically. I think it’s dangerous to intertwine that with ideas and aesthetics; tying that into the sounds that you’re creating.
Nolan: My view of what this band is about and the vibe that I get is that anything we do, from writing music to playing it live, I try not to get into a habit of making the music contrived. I just go with my gut. You just need to listen to it. I’ll write an idea and bring it to Owen and the band and that’s where the constructive criticism comes in. We might say it’s too on the nose or whatever. I feel like it’s a natural progression while we’re writing. The more we progressed as a band, the more I’ve felt comfortable within our style. I feel like a lot of our lyrics aren’t things that we really over think. It might be based on an experience, a book or whatever. More recently, the lyrics have been involved with the way we view things.
Owen: When you get into talking about the lyrics, I think they’re a little more incidental. It’s about pursuing musical expression rather than illustrating something. When you mentioned the caricatures of what certain bands intentionally play up to, it’s limiting to what you’re able to do with the music, what it can express. The idea of a mission statement or concept for Anicon – well there really isn’t one. Anicon is just what happens when the four of us write and play together. There is no gate, or yes or no that we go through. We try and keep our lyrical subject matter to things that are relevant to us and that we have a personal experience with.
Nolan: I’d like to think that the lyrics are pretty well balanced. Not too abstract, but open to interpretation.
Alex: I can’t really speak to the lyrical stuff, as that’s Nolan and Owen’s department. A couple of things about the music I guess is that it’s experiential. Part of making music in contrast to writing manifestos is, at least for us, something we do together. It’s an important reason for why we want to play live and why the music sounds the way that it does. It’s a collaborative group experience. Hearing those sounds in our tiny little practice space. It’s a visceral rather than academic experience. Also, we’re learning something different and new every time we write a song. For myself, I’ve learned a ton playing with this band. There is no set criteria or goal from when we started out. We’re exploring something different and new every time we start off writing a new song. That’s what makes it engaging for me and that’s also what keeps it away from any sort of ideology.
A number of “Black Metal” projects tend to shy away from performing live, either for lack of back up support or to enhance whatever mystique that they are trying to achieve. However, you guys have appeared not only locally but also just finished up a tour with fellow brothers in arms Yellow Eyes. Is there a love for playing live within you guys?
Owen: I like hearing the stuff we write recorded but it feels like very much a live band. We played here in the city on Halloween and it was mentioned to us afterward that you could see that we’re good friends, that we know each other really well. It’s tangible when we play. I like that the audience and the listener can see that. It’s a great feeling being able to play music with these guys.
Nolan: I’ve been living in New York for almost five years and I felt trapped before I started playing with these guys. I felt like I wasn’t ever going to meet anyone to play music with, let alone in the live setting. So it’s been an awesome feeling so far, playing these songs live and seeing people connect with them.
Lev: You mentioned the word mystique, and for some bands being unwilling to play is because it won’t fit the whole vibe of what they’re going for. It makes life a lot easier in that respect if you are as absolutely, thoroughly uninterested in that mystique or sort of atmosphere as we are. I think we’re all on the same page about being into music. When that’s the case, playing live is a natural outgrowth of that. It’s also a great way of getting a good read on where you’re going, what the material is like. You learn a lot about songs that you haven’t recorded when you play them live.
Have there been any growing pains for the band in terms of transitioning from playing the songs in the practice space into the live setting?
Alex: It really seems like we’ve just glided into it in regards to playing live.
Owen: From a standpoint of starting off playing live, figuring out our live sound and what we wanted to get out of it was the real issue. There’s been some gear related stuff, but really nothing big, which is nice.
Alex: Our first show, with Von, was pretty notable. We just got thrown into the show at Saint Vitus which on pretty short notice, which was intense. The show sold out and even though we were the opening band, it was still a pretty big deal for us.
Black Metal as a political statement and as a style of music has morphed since it’s heavily documented inception all those years ago. Each country and culture has left it’s mark on it’s style, ranging from the original Norwegian style to the current American Black Metal scene, which seems to be a bit more open to exploring the confines of what Black Metal can sound like. Overall, is this a style of music capable of sustaining itself over time?
Lev: For me, it’s really important to establish that the way we tend to think about what Black Metal was at it’s inception is pretty flawed and revisionist. There was always room for weird and interesting shit to go on. It’s been there since the get go. For whatever reason, the sound that certain bands have has been honed in on and is the sound you’re supposed to have. That’s never really been the case. There’s always been interesting stuff going on and lots of different ways that Black Metal can sound, as long as the genre isn’t too confining within itself. I think it’s really dangerous to have that orthodox vision where you start setting strict parameters. As long as that’s not the case and you’re healthily breaking down more and more, there’s always a ton of room for new growth and direction.
What about the basement fans, the people that think Black Metal has to be played a certain way? That it has be four-track recording and lo-fi for it be acceptable?
Lev: Ha, some of that shit rules, ya know? But I think it’s pretty absurd and based in ideas that aren’t really musical. But you know, look at Darkthrone’s catalog. Some of my favorite shit by them is the early stuff. I love Soulside Journey. Goatlord is fucking amazing, which is black metal, but not really traditional. I feel like things can get really myopic and not a fair representation of the genre. It’s like saying Death Metal is only about what was coming out of certain Tampa bands in the early 90’s, that’s the only sound Death Metal can be. That’s absurd. But that idea has more traction in Black Metal.
Alex: It’s a verbal construct. Whether it’s being applied by bands when they are starting to write stuff and they say, “We are Black Metal and this is what Black Metal is,” or applied after they write it.
Nolan: No matter how you go about it, there’s going to be elitists in a given musical genre. It’s not about writing music to suit the elitists, it’s about going back to how you approach writing the music. A lot of bands release their debut record, everyone’s into it and when they put out the sophomore album, they feel that this is the formula they have to follow because people liked it. The outcome usually sounds the same and boring. One thing that I’ve noticed with us, is that our music has progressed. It has veered away from the traditional sound that we’ve started with.
Owen: I think on the topic of expansion and possibility for growth, what has been said is pretty accurate. I think there’s this zeroing in on a very specific Scandinavian sound. Obviously Norway and Sweden, bands that everyone is familiar with. Also, there’s a very similar thing going on in contemporary American Black Metal that are very intentionally playing to a style, and I think it’s really boring. But I think there’s a lot of unique and weirder stuff going here in America. Just as there’s a perceived European or Norwegian sound, there’s also a perceived American Black Metal sound. I mean, if you think about it, this country is huge. There are regional scenes and sounds.
Lev: Even within that, I would not say that there’s a New York style or sound. I don’t think there is such a thing as American Black Metal. I think any notion that things are that homogeneous or characterized that way are more of a narrative that has been put on things rather than culled from the music itself. Some of it’s good and some of it’s bad. There has been a trial and error with new things. Look at Panopticon in terms of incorporating traditional musical elements from his background, his sound is something pretty special and particularly very American. But reaching back to those folk elements can’t be characterized as what American Black Metal is. Metal is at a really cool place now. There are times where you can kinda get an idea of where a band is from, but more often than not you can’t really tell. French Death Metal bands that sound like Polish death metal bands or whatever. It’s all over the place and it’s really cool. Which is a really healthy thing overall.