I got the chance to sit down with the guys from Sannhet and we talked about various aspects of the sub-genres they are often attached to, along with other musings. Right off the bat, I hit it off with their drummer Chris, who was wearing a Youth Code shirt and I was wearing a Swans shirt, so we had one of those mutual-admiration-of-band-shirt moments, and from there we were just friends catching up.
So what is it about New York that enables the scene to pump out so much great metal?
Chris: Diversity; the space and room to be yourself – after living there for over a decade, all the touristy elements fade, but it’s a melting pot.
What is it that makes New York the place where most US black metal is being pumped out of?
Chris: It can be depressing.
AJ: It’s the chicken stock of the soup; you can taste it in there, but there are a lot of other pieces thrown in.
John: There are not bands that I would say are a hundred percent traditional.
The closest to that would be Mutilation Rites
John: We are friends with those guys and they don’t even consider themselves black metal. They are genre-bending, taking the influence. How can you be black metal in New York, since you are not in Norway? Not out in Nature with epic landscapes? There isn’t much else in common between the two places, except we do get a lot of snow. I think Liturgy still self-identifies as black metal.
I heard Bone Thugs N Harmony was influence on their new album.
John: It’s Hunter’s take on rap metal and I would rather listen to his take on it than Limp Bizkit. To some extent, saying you’re black metal raises suspicion, because then you are trying to ape your heroes. It’s like the hardest question is, what do you sound like, and most bands in New York just try to name a bunch of bands that they hope you have never heard before.
To bring up another genres, you guys are often called post-rock, and while many post-rock bands have long sprawling songs, where you guys are much more concise and seem to place more of an emphasis on songwriting, so what is your songwriting process like?
John: It’s changed a lot since the first album. On the first album, we were a two piece. AJ joined the band and allowed us to build structures, where I used to do a lot of looping and did more of the typical post-rock thing where we would take one idea and build off of it. Now there is more freedom.
AJ: Sometimes I would just have a whole dropbox of Chris just beat-boxing. So now I might take an idea and have Chris work around it. Then we will put something else on top, then go back and edit the revised version.
John: I am more of a rock ‘n roll, post-rock guy and AJ will alternate between writing basslines that are hooky like post-punk, with more of a pop element, rather than my droning dirges.
AJ: So the songs take on this internal dialogue – there are these different elements fighting to be heard. On the next record we might take a different approach.
You mentioned post-punk – would you say that bands like the Cure and Joy Division are an influence.
John: Yes, we love Joy Division, we did a track coming out on CVLT Nation’s Joy Division tribute comp. We got one of the lesser known songs, which surprisingly for us is one of their more droning songs, so ironically it sprawls out more than are normal songs. The more well-known Joy Division songs are up beat.
Chris: The thing that we have in common with post-punk is there is some some beauty to it and some urgency.
In black metal, aside from Darkthrone’s more rock moments and say, Emperor, the vocals tend to become a static layer of white noise, so the fact you are instrumental, do you find that to more freeing?
John: Yeah, like you said, the vocals can be a tonal. It frees up space and is less distracting without vocals. There are those types who just can’t listen to anything without vocals, then there are others you get turned off it when the screaming comes in. I think we try to fill up that space so you don’t notice.
AJ: We recorded guitars for three months, so if we had vocals we would have had to commit to a story. We have trouble with commitment.
John: With screaming, you are pigeonholed as metal. Then there’s Deafheaven, where there are people who don’t normally listen to metal that listen to them.
AJ, do you feel your role in the band is to bring the aggression, while John paints the background with more texture?
AJ: I feel like I do a lot of more poppier parts. It’s the sweet to the sour.
John: They are the architects; I paint more in broad strokes, they are the scaffolding.
(Chris pulls up a Youtube video of Bob Ross painting happy trees.)
There’s the happy trees
AJ: Our trees tend to be more depressing.
So how do you get your bass tone?
AJ: That is one of my favorite questions ever, Fender – I need to take every thing apart and fuck with it. I got these custom pedals made by this guy Tony Balls who makes pedals that combine the old rat pedal sound. The full and throaty sound comes from mesa zone, so there is that vintage bass sound with a modern edge, without which I would sound like Emmure.
John: Not sure we could ever sound like Emmure.
You would need more break downs .
John: …and I don’t know if could palm mute like that.
You also need to get basketball jerseys.
AJ: Sannhet basketball jerseys coming soon; they would be black on black. Most bass players who want to sound better should just play with a better drummer. It’s all me sticking tight to Chris.
So to bring us to another genre you are often attached to…shoegaze, how has that been an influence?
John: I was into guitar rock, then shoegaze showed me what you can do. Rock is about the riffs. Shoegaze is about the texture. In shoegaze there is that contrast of light and dark.
Chris: That’s also in post-punk, but with more energy.
John: Also, with a band like My Bloody Valentine, they can be very visceral in terms of volume.
I think of all the 90s trends, shoegaze deserves the comeback much more than grunge. How do you feel about what bands like Nothing and Whirr are doing?
AJ: I love what Nothing does.
John: Deafheaven does it too, but from a more avant garde angle. Some of these bands you can’t tell if they are from 91 or 92. I like that people can hear that in use and can appreciate those references.
For me, instrumental music has a cinematic feel – are movies and visual arts and influence on you?
John: They are for me. I like movies that are moody and atmospheric. AJ brings the literal visual element to our shows. I connect to David Lynch, be it the scores he does or something like the music from Twin Peaks.
On “Empty Harbor,” there was a jazz-like element that reminded me of Twin Peaks.
John: There is that Angelo Badalamenti tone. Also in things like Holy Mountain. Did you see There Will Be Blood? The soundtrack is like snippets of sirens and that movie is really just a character study. You just learn more about Daniel Day Lewis’ character and nothing really happens.
AJ: Under the Skin is another one like that. That’s how we see the songs as more of a character study.
John: There is a theater in New York that once in a while has a night where they play a silent movie and have a noise band play to it, and they asked us to do one. But it would depend on if we can write something of that length to play for just one night, because we do not improv, that is just not what we do – no jamming, we have to tell a story.
What are your tour plans ?
John: We are going to do some festivals, head out west, some short runs that make sense geographically.
AJ: We are playing NXNE, Hopscotch, the Empyrean. Glad Andy Stott asked us to play.
One thing about your label Flenser is it takes you back to the day when you could by any album by Metal Blade and you knew it would be good. I’m really into that new King Woman.
Chris: Yeah, that one is good. There is another one that flew under the radar last year – Boduf Song’s Stench of Exist. It’s dark singer-songwriter.
Like King Dude?
AJ: Less Johnny Cash, more in a register normal people can sing in.
John: Yeah, they are really having a great year this year.
Chris: I love Wreck & Reference.
John: But yeah, it’s like back in the day with Hydra Head.
They put out those early Converge albums that made me feel guilty and put down the bong when someone told me they were straight edge. It’s like that band Mineral, I stopped listening to them when someone said they were Christian.
AJ: On some message board, there was a rumor that we were Christian because out name means the truth.
John: I suppose if they were Christians, then they assumed that since Jesus is their truth, it must be ours. But Jesus is not our truth. We don’t have anything against religion.
AJ: I do. I am against all organized religion.
Thanks for the awesome interview!