Bliss Signal is a bridge between different worlds. James Kelly aka WIFE (also known from Altar of Plagues) and Jack Adams aka Mumdance collaborate in order to bring to life this connection between the black metal and electronic music realms. The result is equally impressive and disturbing as the duo unleashes a bombastic assault that travels through repetitive electronic music motifs, grim black metal aesthetics and ambient interludes. In this interview the duo discusses the origin of the project, their interest in different styles of music, the recording process for their new record and their upcoming plans.
Hey guys! Firstly, thanks for finding the time to do this interview, it is much appreciated! So, how did this project come together? How did you guys meet?
JK: Jack and I met for the first time in 2014, while we were both in Tokyo. I was surprised to find out that he was a fan of what I had been doing with Altar of Plagues and likewise I was into his work. We became friends and in the following years we imagined a metal leaning project that would be a sort of hybrid of his work and mine, as well as being something that we both wanted to hear but couldn’t find in the metal world. We eventually organised our first writing sessions which resulted in some demos, which led to a booking at Unsound Festival for our debut performance and things snowballed from there.
JA: Yeah James and I have just got on from since we first met, Im really happy that we managed to turn the idea into a reality.
Both you guys are fans of electronic and metal. What intersections do you identify between the two genres? What are the common themes?
JK: Thematically I would say they have a tendency to be at odds with one another. Electronic music, particularly club focussed strains, are generally absent of themes and function on a visceral level. In contrast, metal tends to hid behind themes of fantasy and myth. But one of the reasons I was always drawn to the more atmospheric strains of extreme metal is that, once you get past the theatrics, it’s all about a vibe really. We do believe there are musical intersections between these disparate sounds and this is exactly what we aimed to explore with Bliss Signal. Both can be driven by intense, propulsive rhythms while also channeling similar emotions – club music can be more about euphoria but black metal, say early Scandinavian stuff, has a triumphant quality that feels similar.
JA: Definitely, at its core it’s always been about the feeling of euphoria, which is communicated in very different ways by guitar and electronic music. Ultimately what we are trying to do is just bring that together in a tasteful manner.
Jack, you have been performing as a DJ, under the Mumdance moniker, since 2009 I believe. What was it that got you interested in working on a partly metal project?
JA: I’ve always been interested in punk and metal for as long as I have been interested in electronic music. My taste for guitar music was spawned from skateboarding and bmxing when I was young and obsessively watching the VHS videos and pausing them at the end, finding out the band names and then importing the cd. I was big into punk, post hardcore, shoegaze and that developed over time into a love of metal.
And also, how different was the recording process of the record for you? When compared to Mumdance releases?
JA: the recording process was very enjoyable and taught me a lot of things. I’ve never worked with guitars before, so the whole recording demos and then going into a bigger studio and tracking everything was super interesting to me. Most of my recent work has been very spacious and based on music concrete, so it was really refreshing and fun to work on something so dense and layered.
James, as WIFE you have been exploring the experimental electronic genre. What was it that got you interested in starting to produce music in that style? And how different do you find the songwriting process from metal?
JK: I’ve always had varied music taste, and it just so happened that the metal band I started gained a little traction. Towards the end of Altar of Plagues, I had arrived at a point where I felt that there were other things I wanted to explore musically and rather than try to split my creativity in half, I felt it made sense to draw a line in the sand. From a fan perspective, I find that metal also tends to evolve at a glacial pace and I began to find things stale and uninspiring so I attention turned to other styles of music. It got to a point where it did not make sense to try and shoehorn these other ideas into the Altar of Plagues sound.
The writing process for WIFE, or say a non-band dynamic, varies hugely as you are not limited by instrumental or performative constraints. The possibilities are endless, which can actually be debilitating if you don’t limit things somewhat. I do like that guitar playing has a more intuitive and tactile feel when it comes to writing and things flow a bit more naturally. Electronic music production is a bit more calculated and lacking in flow – it’s pretty hard to get a vibe going when you’re scrolling around some software with a mouse.
Also, this is the first metal project that we see from you since the final Altar of Plagues record. What was it that made you decide to make a return to the genre? Should we expect this to continue?
JK: Basically it happened because I found the ideas that Jack and I were discussing to be exciting and worth exploring. Picking up a guitar and shredding had been the last thing on my mind to be honest but once we started working together, I enjoyed re-engaging with writing guitar based music. We initially thought we would just work on a track together. Neither of us came into this expecting to create an album of material and the fact that it happened speaks to how naturally this all came to us. We both feel that the album is a small glimpse of the ideas we have for ‘Bliss Signal’ and we are both have idea as to how we could further develop things.
In August 2018, you released the debut record for the band in the Drift EP. The only track that also appears in the new record is “Bliss Signal”. What was it about the two other tracks, “Swarm” and “4AM Drift”, that made you consider releasing them on their own? Did they not fit the theme of the record?
JK: The ‘Drift’ EP was used as a means of introducing the project as we wanted to release ‘Bliss Signal’ as the single but also wanted to have some ‘B-side’ material to accompany it, as we did not feel that a standalone track would make the best introduction. Ultimately we were also trying to not be precious about things and just start putting stuff out there.
JA: Yeah the album is definitely meant to be heard as a “piece” rather than one track at a time. The two extra tracks on ‘Drift’ were demos that we felt didn’t fit into the flow of the album, but still had something about them we liked. We knew that we wanted to release “Bliss Signal” as the first single, since its the first track we made together and sums up the mission statement. So when the album was finished and we understood what our “message” was it was easy to develop the other demos into proper finished tracks which complimented it and worked as an introductory EP.
The Drift theme carries over to the new record with “N16 Drift” and “Ambi Drift”. What are the common themes that these tracks have with “4AM Drift”? Why use the same term (“drift”) on the title of all these tracks?
JK: ‘Drift’ is just a word that we felt fits the vibe of the ‘floating’ or, as Jack is known for, ‘weightless’ tracks. It thematically ties them together.
JA: I have a label called ‘Different Circles’ where we release a sub genre of electronic music which has been coined ‘weightless’. It’s more of an aesthetic than a genre and, just as minimalism is an approach to writing and reducing a piece of music, you can approach something with the idea of weightlessness. I also describe it as an axis where minimalism, noise, ambience and music concrete meet. We wanted to see if we could carry some of these ideas over into the Bliss Signal project and the ‘drift’ tracks and the intro to the album ‘slow scan’ are where these ideas are most prominent.
You recorded the new record, and the Drift EP, with Jaime Gomez-Arellano with whom you have also worked with the Altar of Plagues albums. How different was the experience and the setup than when recording with Altar of Plagues?
JK: Being a drummer-less and (for the most part) a vocal-less project it has a different dynamic but honestly it did not feel like such an enormous difference to me. This is also a true collaboration is the sense that the workload is split down the middle, whereas with Altar of Plagues I was the one conceiving everything and that can become draining, especially in a studio environment. The Bliss Signal material is a lot less emotionally taxing too, especially in comparison to the last Altar of Plagues album. Bliss Signal does not really engage with ‘darkness’ as such, whereas Altar of Plagues was very much about that.
JA: It was such a cool experience working with Gomez, really talented and intelligent guy. His studio is in a converted barn in the middle of the countryside and it felt super ‘metal’ to be recording there.
The new album is coming out through two record labels in the underground, extreme metal label Profound Lore and True Panther Sounds (a subdivision of Matador Records), which also highlights the two sides of the project. How did you come to the decision to release under both labels? Do you believe this will inform both crowds (metal and electronic) about the project?
JK: It came about as a result of enthusiasm from both labels ultimately. After speaking with both, everyone agreed that the sum of both labels powers could benefit the album. We’re huge fans of both and very grateful to have their support. To be honest, we were initially at a bit of a loss regarding what to do with the record as we weren’t sure where it would fit. To my ear it’s quite obviously a metal record, but other people have heard it as being a largely electronic record. In the end we just didn’t want to back ourselves into a corner and wanted to try and keep things open.
JA: couldn’t be happier with this co release, I’ve been friends with Dean from True Panther for a long time so its been really nice to work together and to have a co-sign from Profound Lore which releases some of my favourite bands, so it’s been an absolute dream.
What are the future plans with Bliss Signal? Will this be a one-off project, or should we expect more releases from you?
JK: Everything with the project so far has developed quite naturally, and it quickly turned from a studio session into an album. We’re currently focussed on doing so live shows and both of us would definitely be interested in another record down the line for sure.
JA: Everything came together so easily with the recording process, it was a pleasure to do. We definitely both feel that there is scope to explore the ‘world’ we have created with this project and we are looking forward to exploring it.