Unearthly Trance drops their long-awaited new album, Stalking the Ghost, on February 24th via Relapse Records. I caught up with vocalist/guitarist Ryan Lypynsky through email to discuss the creation of the record, their breakup and reformation, and why Europe doesn’t have its head up its ass when it comes to the almighty UT.
This is your first album in seven years. Did the long break since “V” influence the sound and creative process of Stalking the Ghost?
Ryan Lipynsky: I think the break did have somewhat of an indirect influence on the creative process. There was plenty of time to think and ponder what we would do if we did play again. By that, I mean new music most of all. There were demos from the pre-breakup era that played a part in Stalking…. The older ideas inspired the newer songs that were written. I have said it a few times but I feel like this was almost our 2nd “first album,” if that makes sense. We had more than enough songs to choose from and craft a batch of songs that flow nicely. We didn’t over do it, either. I think some maturing went on for sure.
Unearthly Trance was on ice for nearly three years, though you, Darren and Jay continued to play together in Serpentine Path. What led to Unearthly Trance getting back together? Did the time spent in Serpentine Path have an affect on the new Unearthly Trance material?
I think because we were doing another parallel band, there was always a thought in the back of my mind that it wasn’t impossible for UT to play again. But, after the split, it was absolutely the last thing we wanted to do. We were burnt out and needed a long break, and that is essentially what we took. Serpentine Path was cool, but it always felt slightly empty not playing guitar for me on a personal level. There were many points that Tim Bagshaw wanted me to play second guitar, but it never happened for one reason or another. Basically, after we put out the second Serpentine Path album, the band slowly faded out and ran its natural course. Tim has a killer band with Lee Dorrian and Leo from Cathedral. I think it’s awesome. He has got his own thing that gigs and records and now UT is back to doing our thing. Sometimes, the universe corrects things, but time is the key.
In terms of material? Not really. Tim wrote all of the Serpentine Path music except one song on “Emanations.” So, the only thing that it did was give me time to write other music on my own while UT was inactive. When we came back to Unearthly Trance, I felt refreshed and the riffs just flowed.
V was the darkest, heaviest, most doom record in your catalog. To my ears, Stalking the Ghost is the catchiest, most accessible record Unearthly Trance has done. Was this a conscious decision or did this happen organically?
I think the albums reflect us personally, as well. V was, in a way, a dark time period for UT. UT is complicated and, in retrospect, a bit indulgent in the dark side. I am happy to hear that the new one is catchy and accessible. My only intent was to have good songs and play them well. The whole thing with UT is that all things have to happen organically for it to be right. We never try too hard. Much of what we do comes out of experience and confidence.
You recorded the new album with Colin Marston (Gorguts, Krallice). Why the switch from Sanford Parker? How was working with Colin?
From my experience, there was an in-between time period between Sanford and Colin. V was for the most part recorded and mixed by our bassist, Jay Newman. Jay also recorded both Serpentine Path albums. We were excited to go back into a real studio and not have to stress about recording ourselves. Jay could just focus on playing bass and enjoy the process as a member of UT, not in the engineer role. I have previously worked with Colin in my other band The Howling Wind. I really liked the way he worked and I think that I always thought he would be perfect for UT. He is smart and creative and most of all likes to work swiftly and efficiently. Colin is a great guy and I consider him a friend. We can’t wait to go back and record with him. Sanford rules, but we had a good long run with him. When I look back, he saw us when we played Chicago on the Season of Seance… tour and he asked us after our show to record us. When it came time to record In The Red, we took a chance and drove out to Chicago, and that began an awesome working relationship and a huge growth period for us as a band.
How was the recording process compared to other records you’ve done? I know the drums for “The Trident” were done at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio. How long were the sessions? Did you multitrack or record live?
We were super efficient in the studio. Colin was totally on board with the way we wanted to record. It took us about a week to record the album. We tracked the main drums, bass and guitar live. We wanted to go back to doing that as we have done it in the early days. I only did one vocal track on the whole album. No back ups. The main thing for overdubs is second guitar track and texture guitar. Besides the few guitar overdubs,we really wanted to have the honest live feel. That is where we are best and where our collective personality as a band shines. Even on the guitar solos, there is no backing guitar, only bass, Van Halen style, haha! Colin encouraged us to work the way we liked. He was right there with us and made the recording process so fluid and fun. The one aspect that can’t be understated is the fact that Colin is in the NYC area. It made recording easy, schedule-wise, and helped us focus. We didn’t have to worry about traveling away from home for over a week. We could go home after a session and sleep at home and feel recharged.
“The Trident” was a blast for us. The room we recorded the basic tracking in was massive and it was so much fun to record and hang out there for a few days. Every session we did with Sanford was a blast, as well as a learning experience.
Orion Landau did the cover. You have worked with him before. How far back does your working relationship with him go? How does the artwork tie in to the album thematically?
Yeah, Orion has done the covers for The Trident and Electrocution by Unearthly Trance, as well as both Serpentine Path albums. We have a long-standing working relationship with him. We were excited with the way he did the SP stuff, so it was a no brainer to work with him again. He really got my loose concepts I sent to him and came back with super solid ideas right away. The theme is that of a beast (a lion on the cover) being stalked by three hooded figures. But a ghost is by nature the one who haunts. So there is a theme at play about the stalker being stalked and the circle of obsession that it symbolizes. We were hunting down our past beast, our band, when we were away from it.
Unearthly Trance has a long-standing relationship with Relapse Records. It’s cool to see that you guys picked up where you left off after UT broke up. Was that pretty much a given?
It wasn’t. But, keeping contact with Relapse by working with them on Serpentine Path certainly kept our relationship going and I would say its better then ever now. We are super satisfied and proud to still have our place on the Relapse roster. They have been great to us since we have returned and they have been supportive of everything we have wanted to do since regrouping!
After the release of the album, you have a European tour in April with Suma that coincides with an appearance at this year’s Roadburn festival. Though you’ve done some touring in the U.S., it seems that Unearthly Trance has always had more of a home in Europe. Would you agree, and if so, why do you think that is? Also, how does touring Europe compare to the U.S.?
We are beyond excited to finally get over to play Roadburn. But, I am more happy that it is happening now in 2017. I think we are band that is playing great and we have put out a really solid album. We also can’t wait go out and play some shows again with our brothers in SUMA!
We absolutely feel more welcomed and appreciated in Europe and elsewhere throughout the world than in the U.S. I know it seems strange for a band from New York to say that, but the truth is that the local scene goes through so many ups and downs that there is no really huge bond in a scene. The scene in NY is a reflection on life; overcrowded, fast moving and chaotic.
Touring in Europe is always better. No contest. In the US there is less hospitality. That’s just the way it is here. Overseas, people seem to be more serious about music than the typical American metalhead. But, I’m old, so who the hell knows?
Beyond the album and the tour, what does the future hold for Unearthly Trance? You guys have always been prolific with splits, do you have any of those on the horizon? And maybe, just maybe, are there any plans for U.S. touring or out of state shows?
Our whole point is do things at our own pace and only if it’s right for us. We all have lives and family that take priority, but we love to play in Unearthly Trance. We plan to stick around and avoid the pitfalls of the past. Do it our way, basically.
We do have a plan to do a split with Primitive Man! We hope to record in the next few months. No plans for a U.S. tour at the moment, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Just depends on logistics and life.
Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to answer our questions. Keep your eyes peeled for a review of Stalking the Ghost, and get thee to a record store on February 24th.
Unearthly Trance Tour Dates:
*All dates April 17 – April 23 with Suma*
Apr 17 Copenhagen, DEN KB18
Apr 18 Hamburg, GER Hafenklang
Apr 19 Brussels, BEL Magasin4
Apr 20 Tilburg, NLD Roadburn Festival
Apr 21 Leipzig, GER Doom Over Leipzig
Apr 22 Athens, GRC Kyytaro Live Stage
Apr 23 Rostock, GER JAZ