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Avant Garde


About two years ago, I was staying at Sean Reveron’s house in Venice. As per tradition, I would raid his tape collection while fielding a thunder barrage of questions, when I grabbed a duo-toned cover. How did a long-lost Rough Trade cassette end up in Sean’s metal and punk collection? I asked him, and in his trademark desert rasp, he corrected me: “Dude that’s this guy named A Pregnant Light; dude, it’s like death metal blackend punk, man, I’m really feeling it! They fucking cover Madonna dude, Madonna.” Basically, if you have Sean Reveron’s approval, it’s a crucial pick up. On the car ride back to my palm-tree lined border city, I listened to “Live To Tell” at least 3 times. Whereas I was expecting the deviation from black metal to end at the cover art, I was gravely mistaken. Each song had a complex multi-layered guitar, reminding me of reading about how Johnny Marr would lay down at least 12 guitar tracks on every Smiths song. Backwards, forwards, played backwards and then reversed. There was an uplifting element to the music. A huge separation from the Transylvanian marauders of the second wave. Throughly unplaceable. A Pregnant Light has managed to do what some artists strive for their whole career. Full realization by stripping away all the bullshit (whatever it may be.)

I sat down with Damian Master, the sole heir to the APL throne, to discuss ideal audiences, no genre allegiances, and the far-reaching influence of Madonna.

A Pregnant Light has been termed as “Black Metal,” but that doesn’t seem to be all there is – and if such, than it’s more out-of-the-shadows Black Metal. There’s strong melodies, emotions other than anger, and more experimentation; how do you feel about the Black Metal labeling?

I think it plays heavily with that aesthetic and sound, but it really isn’t black metal. It has a lot more to do with lots of influences that are outside of the black metal realm. Though, some BM influences exist. This is why I call it “purple metal.” I’m not trying to create my own genre, just trying to pay respect to those who take these things seriously. I also take myself super-seriously, but I’m not trying to be “unique.” I’m just trying to show that I’m a product of many influences. Not just black metal. I think a lot of black metal is influenced solely by black metal… I think that that kind of thing is similar to inbreeding.

It seems that, from an aesthetic stand point, a lot of the bands on Colloquial Sound Recordings deviate from whatever apparent path they’re supposed to follow. Aksumite, named for the Kingdom of Aksum in Ethiopia and Dressed In Streams (basing their imagery off of the Provisional Government Of India – Azad Hind) and A Pregnant Light’s seemingly Smiths-inspired album artwork all seem part of the same circle, label notwithstanding. Do you feel a musical kinship with anyone else through this mentality, or is A Pregnant Light careening solo down a one car lane?

I don’t think APL has any kinship with any band particularly. APL is sort of peerless, which is both cool and unfortunate. I never set out to be “unique” or “original,” I just wanted to be good. I just wanted to be quality. It’s kind of sad, because I wish I belonged to a larger scene or body of people / artists. I’m kind of out here in the desert all alone. It can be frustrating. However, I’m not going to stop doing what I want to do or stop following my artistic urges to fit in anywhere.

When I think about what I’m doing, I believe it’s important. If you don’t get it it / understand it / need context – that’s kind of your problem.

Has that desire of quality over availability stopped you from performing live? I know in your interview with Lurkers Path you stated you don’t know how performing live would work for APL. Is the necessity for solitude still as important as it was?

Quality and availability are two separate things. If you’re referring to the availability of a band being accessible through live performance, that has changed. The project has evolved pretty dramatically since it’s inception. I’ve changed as a person. A great deal, really. I think a major factor in APL performing live has always been that the guitar parts are pretty intricate and strange, especially for a band that gets labeled “black metal.” It’s like, an indie rock guy or something would be able to accomplish what needs to be done more than a metal or punk guy, but someone who listens to XTC probably isn’t into A Pregnant Light, or would play for me. At least, I don’t know these people. I no longer crave solitude or distance from my listeners. It’s impersonal, corny and not who I am.

Don’t be so sure, I love “Making Plans For Nigel” almost as much as I love “Live To Tell.” I mean do you crave solitude for the purpose of creation? Like most harsher styles of music, was the desire of solitude in there in the beginning or have you always found that to be a lame trick?

hahah! That’s great. You should like “Plans for Nigel” more than “Live To Tell,” it’s way better! LTT is pretty great though. Let’s agree they both rule. ha. Sometimes I crave solitude for the purpose of creation – more so, I crave the lack of distraction. It seems that people have very little time to devote to one thing and people are spread so thin. I am trying to get away from this. I wan’t to focus on one thing and one thing completely. I think that will yield the best results.

To the XTC statement, what would you consider the most surprising influence for APL?

I know all of my influences, so none of them surprise me. I’m totally open to everything. I’m sure the average civilian might be surprised where I get my influence, but that’s on them. It’s funny to have people message me saying they can hear this certain influence, and usually I either hate the band or have never heard of them. Right when I put out The Feast of Clipped Wings, one dude on a forum said it kind of reminded him of Urfaust and so I checked them out. Now Urfaust is one of my favorites. That was the first and only time something cool happened relating to that situation.

So my connection with On A Banquet Table and In The Air Tonight is totally in my own head?

I was into Sussudio more. “Something Happened On The Way” is a great track as well. My mom was a big Madonna fan. As was everyone in the 80s, so there was a lot of that as a kid in the house as well. I kind of lost my mind on Madonna, obviously. She’s the most.

I am always surprised by the amount of people who quote early Madonna as a huge influence. My youngest memory of Madonna is Ray Of Light, so I was obviously eclipsed by her better work (Ali G cameo not withstanding).

I love all periods of Madonna. I think her early stuff is great, but Ray of Light was good as well. Of course I gravitate towards her early work, but there is a lot of great stuff Ray of Light to present. She’s absolutely lovely.

Well you covered Live To Tell so this shouldn’t really be shocking. How did that come about ,anyway?

I’m a big Hammers of Misfortune fan and started interacting with John and Sigrid on twitter. They both followed me. Then one day I was tweeting about how whenever a metal band covers a song it’s always so predictable. Venom or Slayer or something. I said I wished a metal band would cover Madonna. Sigrid replied “what song?” That took me off guard. I said “Live To Tell” because it was ballady but not mopey and could be made into a metal song. More than “Borderline” or “Lucky Star” could be. I think she brought it up at Hammers practice or something. Eventually I said I would cover it and asked if she would help. She kindly agreed, she said her friend Kris would help her record it, and it ended up being Kris Force. I’m a massive Neurosis fan as well as her work in Amber Asylum so I was pretty floored. Kris sang the song and Sigrid played organ.

Lyrics tend to be a big focus for APL, seemingly britpop influenced. More so than your typical affair; Romantic, caustic, and observing instead of the more woe-be-tide-you and mythos based. How important are your lyrics?

They’re not inspired by britpop at all, or any author. I’m not particularly well-read. It’s shameful and I’ve been trying to correct that as of late.

I think all that mythos based stuff and overly poetic, overwrought stuff is stupid. Super corny. It’s not who I am.

I purposefully am trying to write the way that I speak. It’s going to get the closest to my heart. I don’t hear anyone else in metal doing that. They’re all trying to be something they’re not. It’s embarrassing for them, and to an extent as I was growing, to me as well.

All that has changed, now.

I’m not inspired by anyone or anything lyrically. Just myself.

Maybe that’s what it is. There’s a similarity to the directness with what happened in England in the 90s and APL. That directness is very apparent. Tell me about “Before I Came.”

I like all that stuff, or a lot of it for sure. I mean, Oasis is just massive. Super cool stuff. I’m a big Factory Records scene fan as well, and of course, the Smiths. We are probably tapping into the same artistic consciousness, but they’re not an influence.

Before I Came is a compilation album of a lot of out of print demos / splits / singles which is actually a very British thing to do. Ha! And of course, the first two tracks, “Ringfinger” and “Lilajugend” are brand new. For the most part, the comp is in reverse chronological order. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s essential. It’s a great release that brings everyone up-to-speed on APL and how it got to where it is. It’s also the first non-cassette release on CSR. It’s a nice retrospective, but far from the end. I promise.

Ringfinger seems to be the fullest encompass of all that APL has been. It’s uplifting, light bearing and most importantly indicative of the grasp on melody and and actual hooks. It seems like a statement song. The “I have arrived” in contrast to the “before I came.” Would you say it’s the microcosmic vision of what you’ve always wanted?

People have had a really great reaction to “Ringfinger.” It’s kind of funny, I’m really into “Lilajugend.” It just goes to show that what I think is cool is not really what people embrace or identify with. I think these two songs usher in the new era of APL. Before I Came has a few connotations, but the most obvious being that it’s a compilation of older material. All these things came before. In that respect, these two new songs were new, but built on the shoulders of the old. I think every song I write is trying for perfection. I mean, if you’re writing a song and your goal isn’t perfection, what’s the point? There are things about Ringfinger I really like, and some things I dislike. The song is far from definitive. The new material will always redefine and re-work my own frame of reference. When I finished the 21 minute song “Deathmyhangingdoorway” I thought it could never be topped. It was the best I could do, then a few releases later I thought the same of Domination Harmony, but I think I’m getting better and better. I hope so! I’m really working hard to offer something good and quality. Every song encapsulates a small section of who I am and I try to express it to the fullest of my ability. As I grow as an artist, it will become easier and more clear… hopefully.

Who is your ideal audience?

I have no idea. If I did, I would pour every cent I had into marketing to them. I don’t have a Facebook. Someone started an APL one, and they sort of run posts through me, but I don’t have one personally I don’t know how it works. I’m probably missing out on a lot. I would like to find out who my ideal audience is. Wouldn’t we all? I think more than anything my listener is a person with a eclectic taste in music, because there are a lot of influences in APL that could be picked out by the discerning listener, ie. record store nerds or something. I’ve been lucky enough to grow naturally and have people find me. I think the people that have found me really appreciate me. APL is kind of oddball and doesn’t really attract casual fans. Most people that like APL are fervent about it. I like that loyalty. I’m eternally grateful for it.

3 years on, 12 releases in, how has your attitude changed about what you’re doing? Surely in the beginning there must have been some trepidation, the dreaded “Will this work” mentality, has that disappeared?

When I first started I had zero plans or expectations. I just had a plentitude of material. I figured I would sort of start this thing and see where it went. I was never driven by trends or reviews or what people said. Quite the opposite really. In fact, as the project grew in popularity I became really disenfranchised with a lot of the elements of the scene and culture that I once loved. I wanted to just do my own thing. Not for the sake of some self-centered agenda as is the agenda of anyone ages 15-30 right now in this age, I wanted to make something for myself that would keep ME interested. Everything around me seemed dull. My settings, my surroundings, my peer group and certainly the musical landscape.

Maybe at one point there was a “how will I do this” but it was more related to recording. I hate recording. I have to do it all myself because I’m so sick of having to rely on other people. I hate performing all the instruments myself. It sucks. It’s not my dream to be this all-inclusive guy. It’s just that I’m constantly let down by the people I work with. I suppose, more than anything, I’m let down by their work ethic and drive. Pretty much everyone I know has totally sold out. They all want civilian life. I know I sit in a pretty privileged place, so it may sound ludicrous that I’m saying all this. Truly, I am 2 blessed 2 b stressed, but I’m very unimpressed with people’s desire to make music or art. Everyone overvalues their underwhelming output. Now the only thing I’m afraid of is topping myself.

There seems to be a back and forth in your mind about the idealism of an artistic relationship, and the reality that you’re probably the only person who’s going to be down to work 24/7. What’s the biggest frustration about doing things alone? The lack of sexual harassment?

I don’t want to misattribute quotes, but I think I remember Trent Reznor saying once that he wishes that there were just more of him in the band. I kind of feel that way. I want to be like Trent Reznor. I want to hone my skill set and become a better composer and musician. Then, and probably only maybe will I attract some likeminded people. It’s just taxing to do it all. To play all the parts and write them and record them and mix them, etc. It’s fine. I’m not complaining. I mean, I suppose it sounds like complaining. If anything I’m frustrated with those people around me, but my output would show that I’m not letting it slow me down. Imagine what I could do if I could share the load! Also, I have no issues sexually harassing myself. I’ve been doing that longer than I’ve been playing music.

Who do you want to work with?

Really, I’m only interested in working with people that would bring an entirely new palette of sound. I don’t want to record with a big metal producer, or engineer. I’m interested in bringing good sounds. I want to work with people like Kanye West, Trent Reznor, Flying Lotus. Those kind of people. If I ever had another guest vocal, I would rather it be A$AP Rocky, or Pusha T, rather than some screamer from some metal band.”

CSR has seen a rise in output, with new artist such as Obliti Devoravit, Secret Creation, and Ornamental Headpiece releasing. How does the selection process work?

Well, it’s pretty easy. There are a very small group of us that work together. I like the music I make and that my friends make. I love the stuff we make together. Sometimes CSR branches outside of that, but not often. I have so many plans for myself and my friends it’s hard to get passionate about someone else’s project. Some of the submissions we get are embarrassingly bad, so that makes it easy. Some of the stuff I get is fantastic, but I can’t commit to it, because I have to take care of my own first. I would love to work with certain bands or people eventually. It would have to be organic though.

So then, what’s next?

I’m always working on new stuff. I can honestly say that the new material I’m working on is head and shoulders above not only some of my past efforts, it’s certainly better than most bands. Especially the hollowed out hole that is the underground metal landscape as covered by most websites / magazines.

Lastly is there anything else you want to touch on?

I want to thank all my supporters, without their support I would be utterly lost. I truly am in debt to everyone who listens to my music and supports me. I also want to invite all my haters to get in contact with me. I have a box of Tampax I’m trying to get rid of.

(I have supplied Damian’s contact info for said haters. EDIT: Redacted)

Before I Came, the new compilation by A Pregnant Light is available now from Colloquial Sound Recordings.

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