“I’ve never been afraid to venture into new territories that other people wouldn’t go near with a shitty stick. As long as you believe in what you do, it’ll come across.”
ROB MILLER is a true legend. Also known as The Baron, he was responsible for shaping many a creative young mind during the 1980s with the massively influential first incarnation of Amebix. ‘Arise!’ and ‘Monolith’ still stand today as two of the most important records ever made, not only for punk, but for heavy music as a whole. Following a lengthy period of retreat and personal reinvention on the Isle of Skye – where he still lives today – during which he became an accomplished swordsmith, Rob reconnected to music, resurrected Amebix for a while and made ‘Sonic Mass’, one of this century’s finest records. After the band fell apart for a second time, The Baron did not miss a beat and put together Tau Cross, featuring Michel “Away” Langevin from the mighty Voivod on drums among other remarkable musicians like guitarists Andy Lefton and Jon Misery. I caught Rob shortly after he returned from the band’s first proper European tour to reminisce about the old days, talk a bit about swords (obviously!), and also take a look at the present and feature of the amazing Tau Cross.
The point of The Devil’s Mouth isn’t really to get into the usual promotion cycle of bands, but unintentionally it turns out that we’re doing this still more or less within that cycle for your new release, the ‘Pillar Of Fire’ record. I’ve been reading a lot of interviews with you lately, and they all seem to have been good fun to do.
They have been, generally, yes. Back in the 80s it was the “who are your favourite bands?” and “what are your influences?” thing, they were almost all the same. I did another one for a website more or less in this spirit sometime ago and it was great too. I like these interviews, there’s a different attitude towards talking to people, rather than just wanting to sell a product. Sometimes you just want to have a civilised conversation about several things, about other areas of life that we might be interested in. I think this is a very good way to go. Do you think there might be a return at any point towards people actually reading more?
Well, I certainly hope so.
Yeah, me too. It feels like we’ve been through this phase of just glancing at stuff. For me, personally, I’m realising that you can’t do that all the time. There’s too much shit out there, you need to try to focus again and say: this is something that I’d like to read, it’s probably going to take me ten minutes or half an hour, and that’s fine. I had a similar conversation the other day with someone who visited my workshop and we were talking about this quality of life issue. Someone was going on about “the fucking hipsters” and that sort of thing, but I can see that at least one thing those people have is an appreciation of aesthetics. Even if it’s all manufactured to a certain degree, there’s this promise of re-evaluation of stuff, of having things that are well made and not just being a blind consumer, being careful with what you pick. If you could separate the whole trendy image and all that shite from the actual thing that is being said, I think it’s quite interesting. Because with a lot of young people today, there’s a big hole in their lives, they never really had the tactile experience of the real world, in a sense. Offering them that, showing them what is real, what is well made and well crafted, particularly in my line of work, that really can inspire people. It can help to bring back a real appreciation of the arts, per se.
I personally hate to demonise a group of… anything, or anyone, really. I actively avoid the word “hipster”, it has come to mean something more than it should. I get what it’s meant to portray but everybody lobs it around as an insult now, and I think that with almost every movement, there’s good things to extract too.
I like things like good beer and others of the sort, the good things in life, and I think you don’t have to be a snob or an intellectual to have an appreciation of those things. The French have this more naturally, an appreciation of good wines for instance, and it’s not a snotty upper class thing, it’s for everybody, because it’s our right, it’s our soil, it’s things we put in our bodies.
Even when it comes to technology. I have an iPhone, it helps me greatly with work and with having fun too. There’s no need to label everything. Or maybe I’m a “hipster”.
[laughs] Exactly. There are no definite answers, everything has a plus side to it and you need to find out what that is.
There’s actually a nice parallel to be made here with your music. Both Tau Cross and Amebix have/had a connection to the earth, to the landscape, to palpable real things. You’ve always made satisfyingly “rooted” music and people react to that kind of thing strongly these days.
Maybe because they miss out on a whole mythological motif for their age. They don’t seem to have that connection. We have been so fervently connected to the idea of cyberspace that we haven’t managed to satisfactorily map out a proper myth for the age we live in. People have a hunger to make a connection, and I think if there are immediately accessible routes – if you’re not brought up with classical Greek literature, or an understanding of the Arthurian mythos or stuff like that – if you can look around you, you see what immediately drives you deep into the roots of the landscape and what gives you a more intimate connection and feeling to the place that you’re at. There’s that word again, roots, and that is the thing, isn’t it?
Is this frame of mind something you’ve always had present as a musician, or were your beginning less thought-out than that?
The biggest inspiration to play music was my brother, who was working in a hotel at the time, when he was sixteen and I was fifteen. He came back one day with a copy of Sniffin’ Glue fanzine. He had bought a guitar and a small amplifier and he showed me the fanzine, he said “look, there’s a page here and it says this is how you form a band. Here’s three chords, you learn these, now go and form a band.” We took it completely literally. We were like, really?! Fucking brilliant!
You were instantly a punk right there.
What that did was immediately empower this whole generation of kids who thought music was all about superstardom and the whole genesis of the rock world that was going on at the time. That was the rebellion against it. It empowered people as individuals, it didn’t matter where you lived or what your background was, all you had to do was say yeah, let’s have a go. It was so brilliant that it shocked us, we didn’t know we could do that. Even if it sounded shit, we knew we were having fun, and that was enough.
“We’d say fuck it, it doesn’t matter, we’ll live in a place without a roof on it, but we’ll still have a guitar and a bass and play music. That was the central passion of life at that time.”
I recently watched a very good documentary about women in photography [you can watch it here], they raise a really good notion about it at one point – when photography appeared, here was a form of art that anyone could do. You didn’t need any innate talent to do it like painting or something like that. Also, at the same time, it was an activity unencumbered by years of male masters that you had to live up to, so women could take it up as well without the same social stigma they had to face in every other field. It was a democratisation in a lot of ways, and a process that seems very familiar to what you’re describing.
It was exactly that, yes. You’d find in every town all over England kids putting these bands together. It was like a kind of carnival, there was ridiculous stuff going on, but everyone was having fun, and that was the whole point. It was a liberation, because the generation before us, our parents’ generation who’d survived the war and the great austerity, growing up in the mid-60s and onwards, we had the hangover from that. Everything was very formalised and of course that included music as well. There was rock’n’roll, but it didn’t seem to be, at that distance, a great rebellion to me. It was, of course, but it was different. It was pretty much jumped on quickly by people that exploited it, made money out of it and presented it as a finished package for the teenagers, it was a commodity invented at the time.
It was pretty much still something in the realm of fantasy – something those people did, not you.
Yeah, it was an aspiration thing. “Oh, if only I could be like Buddy Holly!“, you know? But we could all be like Johnny Rotten or Sid Vicious, or maybe it’s more safe to say we could be like someone from The Damned and just say “what the fuck!” and have fun with it. I had no musical background – I was interested in art in school, I was good at art and the English language, and they were the only two O levels I ended up getting. This seemed to be an expression of that, it was something I could do. It was so stupid and naïve, but at the same time it was something that drove my life at that age. We were silly enough to think that if we moved to the city and took our band, then something might happen there. Of course nothing really did, we just landed in severe straits, hungry times and homeless and that sort of thing, and that made it difficult for some time, but when you’re young, you survive. We were undaunted, none of that fire was put out. We had so much energy and spirit when we were young. We’d say fuck it, it doesn’t matter, we’ll live in a place without a roof on it, but we’ll still have a guitar and a bass and play music. That was the central passion of life at that time.
Seems unthinkable now, doesn’t it?
It definitely is. I have great enthusiasm and a lot of passion for what I do now, but I’m an old guy now. If we go out on the road and play somewhere, I don’t want to sleep on someone’s fucking floor. You don’t last as long that way. I lasted for four years in the streets of Bristol and I was just hanging on by my fingernails at the end of it. We did that, and we could probably do it again, but who wants to, to be honest? [laughs]
Did Amebix, or even The Band With No Name previously, feel like part of that fun carnival, or was it a serious thing to you at the time?
We took ourselves very seriously, but we always knew we didn’t have the musical vocabulary to be able to manifest what we wanted to do. With The Band With No Name we were soooo shit. But we didn’t care, what we wanted to do was play the music, have a group of mates around, jumping up and down, drinking and having fun. When we started to move into Amebix, things took on a different turn. We lived in this sort of manor house with our new drummer Martin, who was a very unique individual. Still is, very much so, to this day. He had some psychological issues which really became manifested after he left the band. He was a gentle giant, very sensitive, very psychic, and he tuned us into a much darker vibe altogether. We ended up having this very weird lifestyle. We basically lived with this guy that had a lot of older records – he introduced us to Black Sabbath and things like that, with more interesting instrumentation –, and we went without electricity in the winter, in this big old house just going around with candles and having fires in the rooms. When we got the electricity back on, we eventually started practising, we did it during the night, all night long. At about 6am the milkman would come, he delivered the milk and we’d have a bowl of Corn Flakes which was breakfast but it was also our supper, and we’d go to bed. It was a very weird half-life kind of existence, but there was this atmosphere that ended up reflecting on the music. Martin really brought that to the band, in that sense. We held on to that and we rekindled it when we got to Bristol and tried to dig deeper into it. Everything was getting deeper and darker.
What was inspiring you at the time, from a musical perspective?
The influences that Martin brought in and our own stuff as well, the discovery and playing a lot more of things like Killing Joke, taking drugs with that as well, getting into that headspace where everything was really intense. We ended up downstairs at the house reviewing what we had done in the evening, seeing if there was anything worth keeping off that, but we never really had any songs at that point. The first The Band With No Name demo was just crappy jams of ideas that we’d never be able to play the same twice. The same with early Amebix with Martin. He was from that Hawkwind kind of background where all they want to do is jam shit for ever and ever until you get really bored of it. I liked songs, more concise stuff, and it wasn’t really until we came to Bristol that we started to think of really putting stuff down and actually making a record. The responsibility for that was really that Crass compilation record, ‘Bullshit Detector’. I went to see them as a young and part-time journalist, I was working for the Gazette at the time and seeing all these bands in Plymouth. I gave them our cassette tape, and they wrote back and said yes, we’d like to put you in a compilation album of several artists. It was all rubbish, the whole fucking album was awful, but the great thing was that Crass were enthusing kids, saying that anybody can do this and everybody has a voice. It just exacerbated the problem we already had, which was thinking we could play music for a living! [laughs] It all went on from there, I suppose.
Contrary to most other bands of the time, you weren’t explicitly political. It was there at the core of it, but you were always very allegorical about it.
I guess that’s because I do believe that people get stuck within a time period if you directly reference the current state of affairs. For me it doesn’t matter if it’s Trump going up against Kim Jong-Un or whoever it is just now. These things always go on, you always have this archetypal realm of ideas and situations. There’s always a recurring motif, we have this idea of learning from history, but we always repeat it. We always do. It’s just our methods of damaging one another become more sophisticated, or more clumsy.
“Amebix was always a sore thumb.”
It’s like you weren’t really a part of that scene, or of any scene for that matter. Did you feel like that?
I found that we were immersed in a sea of other people that were shouting about Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher, and for me it became boring very quickly, these constant references. It also became quite apparent that within a small restrictive scene all you’re doing is preaching to the converted. There’s no one outside of that circle that’s listening to you and saying “oh, what a revelation, Margaret Thatcher is a bad person, Ronald Reagan is not my friend.” I think I saw how ridiculous that is. To tackle big emotional issues like this, it’s better to do it allegorically, because you need to involve people in the process of thinking for themselves, so they can find out what the situation is on their own.
Take the recent elections in the United States, I was watching that one closely. I really didn’t like Clinton, and I didn’t want her to succeed at all. I favoured Bernie, he was the guy who should have won, I was really pissed off with what happened to him. At the same time I was interested in the Trump dynamics, and seeing what was going on there. It’s obviously turned out to be a complete fucking nightmare, but at the time I wondered what this was going to do to people. You need to be able to observe things impartially from a distance. Unfortunately, when people drag you into their personal drama, as we’re seeing at the moment, it becomes a bit more personal. But politics is politics, politicians are politicians, there’s very few people who are in that field for genuinely humanitarian reasons.
There’s a great line in a Bad Religion song: “someone cried out ‘fuck the government!’ / his mates couldn’t define what he meant“. While there are obviously notorious and utterly necessary exceptions, a lot of protest music, despite the importance that it does have, seems to me to come from that rather vacuous place sometimes.
It can easily become that, yes, unless it’s really original. Unless it’s something that comes along and redefines the whole thing. You get bands from time to time that can somehow articulate a political motif with something astounding musically as well. I suppose we saw something happening with the group consciousness of people around the Live Aid time, where you had the genesis of this idea of the empowerment of the masses as a force for good. But unfortunately, even in the very early stage of that, you had the leeches, the hangers-on, the people who were making money out of that, and it became quite obvious that it was just another empty tirade, another hippie revolution that didn’t go anywhere.
Did you actually feel excluded back in those early days because you were different both in music and in approach? Was Amebix a sore thumb?
Amebix was always a sore thumb, it’s true. Even people looking from the outside, people like Steve Allen for example, on the ‘Risen’ documentary, saying how Amebix was a different band and we didn’t really fit with anybody else, although we were very intimately connected with everybody else. We were sharing the same squats with Disorder, we even shared the same drummer with them for quite some time, he ended up playing two sets in a night for them and for us. So we lived intimately with one another, but when it came to the music, there was quite an amount of suspicion, we were viewed with suspicion by the hardcore. We didn’t really subscribe to whatever was going on at the time, the d-beat worship, we didn’t go out of our way to try and emulate Discharge or Motörhead or whatever it was cool at the time.
The first ending of the band, how was it for you?
During the initial collapse of the band, in 1987, it had become quite obvious for some time that there was an attrition going on, myself and Stig weren’t really being creative anymore. I started hearing the same patterns coming out again and again and nothing really exciting was going on. We really believed in ourselves, but after seven or eight years of doing that, it was beginning to wear us down. There was no real response from anybody, there was a good number of people who liked the music, but the band was going nowhere, partly because we didn’t have any self-discipline. We weren’t professional in any way whatsoever, and there was our lifestyle – we had been in Bristol for four years, hopping from one place to another, never having a proper home for more than a few weeks at a time, there was a constant kind of insecurity about it. No real solid base until we went to Bath, where we had a practice space.
By that time we’d done ‘Arise!’ and we’d recorded ‘Monolith’ and it just seemed like I wasn’t excited by it anymore. I was reluctant to give it up, but I had other things going on too, a young family, and I needed to grow up fairly quickly. I never had any notion of responsibility, I didn’t know what you were supposed to do as a young man with kids and stuff. I came from a squatter’s lifestyle into this, it was a shock, and I guess it took the edge off the luxury we had of just concentrating on music for most of our lives, just living off the dole and living in rough situations always focused on music. That all went down in 1987/88, and it took me a couple of years of coming to terms with that. I subsumed my life into working in a sheet metal factory, which turned out to be a night shift, so again I was living this weird alternative lifestyle but without any of the associated glamour that went with it in my mind. [laughs] Just in a shitty fucking metalwork place at night, tired all the time, disgruntled, not being creative. I think that’s what it was, I didn’t have a creative outlet, I couldn’t find out a way to hook back into that energy that had initially inspired me with Amebix. It wasn’t until I arrived on Skye and started to look into this idea of making swords and all the rest that I really started getting back into that.
You’ve talked about this a few times in other interviews, but I’m really interested in how you turn something so unreal-sounding as swordmaking into a serious thing, not just a dream job when you’re twelve years old if playing football or being an astronaut doesn’t pan out. [visit Rob’s swordsmith site Castle Keep here]
Initially it was a just line of inquiry, when I came to Skye I had to find some work. I was working in a good hotel in the evenings, but during the daytime… I was reading a lot more in those days, and I had gotten interested in mythology and occultism and all that kind of stuff in a deeper kind of level. I had a friend in a local village who was very intelligent, we fell out subsequently but we spent a lot of time together. He encouraged me to follow this idea of the sword, because I had decided that I wanted to learn how to make a sword in the present day, which wasn’t easy. There was no internet yet, and Skye was a very isolated place still, it wasn’t connected to the main land via a bridge or anything, it felt to me like I had come to the end of the world and cut off my connections with everything else I did before. So I started looking into it and I guess it was a very primal thing.
I understood very intuitively, quite immediately, that it was also a magical act. That my interest in occultism and alchemy was fulfilled in this idea of being able to come into an ancient craft that involved all of the four elements in a very primal way, they surround you as a blacksmith and they inform all of that work. At that time of my life, I was much more acutely tuned in to occult philosophy and the way of thinking about stuff. The whole world felt more remote, you couldn’t just type stuff into Google or watch a YouTube video on how to make something. You had to spend time researching, going to bookstores and getting the books you wanted, and that book would become a really important thing – just like a record! An object that you would sit down and absorb every last piece out of. So that absorbed me totally and I found those two things were connected, and that infused my passion for swordmaking.
This all comes, in a way, from a bad thing, your motorcycle accident, isn’t it?
Yeah, I had broken my arm in the accident, that’s what lead me to have time off on Skye and eventually to decide to fuck it and just move away. But a peculiar thing happened, in about a year’s time a cheque turned up on my door from the insurance company, I wasn’t expecting to get anything out of it but they sent me a cheque for £6.000. I thought I could really fuck up on that, but instead I decided to invest carefully and wisely. I looked for tools, I looked around a few companies and got several things I needed, so instead of having this very simple forge, I could start to gradually build it up. At that point there was no desire to make it into a business, but people started coming to me locally asking me for things, if I could sharpen this knife, and asking about things I had made and if I wanted to sell them… eventually that took on a bit of steam. They had a scheme in the UK at the time called Enterprise Allowance that you got £40 a week if you tried to make your own business, rather than being on the dole. I went on and left the hotel, and started doing it full time. It took me a good three or four years before I could start to feel pleased about anything that I had done – actually, still to this day, I’m never really satisfied – but it feels pretty good. I managed to make a living out of something that is very difficult to make a living out of, because it’s such an obscure thing.
What does a customer who wants a sword look like? Is there a type?
Everyone is very different, it’s all really individual people. I had a guy in the other day who is a scaffolder down in London, and he’s very keen on his Nordic mythology, we spent some time talking about it and developing a blade that he’s going to pass down to his son and his daughter as well, throughout the family. It’s something that incorporates a lot of his ideas about the runic elements and the rest of it. He’s someone very in tune, mythically, with his own life, and he wanted to find a way to represent that. Generally speaking, because of what I offer to them, I get people who are very enthusiastic about this idea of their family, or their heritage, or a projection of an aspirational idea as well. A sword is very much a symbol, too, it’s an archetypal symbol that we still respond to, and that’s what happens when people come here and talk about it, I see a sort of a light turned on inside. The sword is a key to the self in a very real sense, and people usually get involved in that process to a great extent. So I don’t really have a typical customer, I get both people who are very warlike and people who are very peaceful. Also people who have some rather dubious ideas of how to ornament their sword! [laughs] I had a couple of guys turn up here a few years back and they said they needed a matching pair of knives and they needed to be very, very sharp, “because we like to cut each other.” Okay then…
Those winter evenings must just fly by, for them.
Yeah, I mean, can’t you just watch TV or something? [laughs]
I remember something interesting you said once, that even if you put a sword in the hands of an 80 year old man, it’s like flicking a switch inside. Something happens.
It’s exactly like that, and that process is very interesting. I don’t think you get that with a gun. It’s not the same way, with guns people are either frightened or they’re overly aggressive with them. With the sword, it’s an understanding. It’s a key to a mystery that exists within all of us, and I suppose on a basic level it can be about survival. It’s about the way we survive and our lineage survives and how we make our way through this world, it’s a very potent representation of how we are here today. I’ve said this a few times before, but at some point in everybody’s history, of their ancestors, someone stood with a sword, or a spear, or an axe, to defend the right for you to be alive today.
During those years of musical inactivity, at least to the public eye, were you still connected to music in any way?
There wasn’t any music shop that sold anything decent, not even in Inverness, so I relied in the music collection I had at the time and would just replay stuff. From time to time I might buy something new, like an Ozzy record that I liked or a bit of Springsteen, Emmylou Harris when she brought out ‘Wrecking Ball’ and stuff. I’d be listening to very different things on the radio, but not really alternative radio – I listened to night-time Radio 1 or some of the folk music shows. At one point I just started playing with a group of local people and doing singer/songwriter stuff, with a fiddle and someone with a D flute and stuff. I guess you’d call it folk music, but it wasn’t traditional folk music, it was things I was writing myself at the time, because I still liked playing music. When I left Somerset, I sold all my bass equipment, I had taken it to a music shop in Trowbridge and the guy gave me this crap fucking acoustic guitar for it. I was like, errrm, okay, and I brought that guitar to Skye with me, and I started to teach myself basic chords. Previously I had no real knowledge about notes and where they were and everything. I guess I started to understand music a bit more. I still kept myself going lyrically – I actually look back on some of these cheesier songs I was doing, and lyrically there’s some value to them, I could almost pull those lyrics out and put them in a Tau Cross song and the atmosphere would fit.
Have you thought of developing that singer/songwriter side of you more? You shared a great acoustic version of ‘We Control The Fear’ [for Kowalski Sessions, watch it here] the other day, and stuff like ‘The Devil Knows His Own’ works wonderfully on the records. You could do a solo album with an acoustic guitar like a lot of people are doing.
You know the band Panopticon? Austin Lunn, the guy behind that, he’s always telling me that we should get together and do something along those lines. Not hard stuff, but writing songs like this. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, he plays a great sort of bluegrass, fiddle music and stuff like that, and I’m keen on this idea of plugging into local musicians, which we have done for the last couple of albums here, and using different sounds that are available. So I’d like to do that. Maybe we can get away with doing an EP of three or four songs like that in the future. We’ll see how it goes, but the funny thing is, if I write something that I’m actually pleased with, in this singer/songwriter framework, I really want to put it into Tau Cross as well. I believe that an album should have different moments and moods, and it should always take you on a bigger journey than just a flatline. It can’t always be aggression-aggression-aggression, it has to have quieter moments and reflection, these periods of immersion where you go into a different reference point.
I’m still learning about all this, but listening to Pink Floyd and other artists with a cinematic approach in my youth, I always wanted to replicate that. More or less in the same way that Roy Mayorga did with ‘Sonic Mass’, he laid out this album which was very cinematic. I’m not good enough production-wise to do it, but I’m teaching myself. We’ve already been discussing this for the next record, the guys really want Skye to be the basis for the future of the band, so hopefully we’ll talk more about this at some point in the future. I think we’re at a very important point in time for the band, where we need to do something outstanding. It’s going to take a lot of effort and a lot of energy, but we have to, it’s so easy to just fall into becoming a cliché of yourself. It seems the longer a band goes on, the more critical that issue becomes, to keep the connection with what is true. I’ve always had that, I’ve never been afraid to venture into new territories that other people wouldn’t go near with a shitty stick. As long as you believe in what you do, it’ll come across.
“[A friend] played me a Sepultura tape and it was like, fuck, that’s just Amebix isn’t it?”
When you sort of peeked out of your “exile”, Amebix had become a huge inspiration for all kinds of revolutionary artists themselves. Some of my personal favourites like Neurosis, Godflesh, Darkthrone or even Celtic Frost have all recognised your importance. How did it feel to become aware of this?
It was a complete shock, and it didn’t happen until the age of the internet. A friend of mine taught me how to use it at the time, basically how to type in a search word [laughs], so I typed Amebix into a search engine to see what had been happening and there were just pages and pages and pages of stuff. It was really intriguing, I had absolutely no idea whatsoever. I had been effectively cut off from all of that and I didn’t know the band had been taken seriously, and posthumously, that was the thing. After we’d finished, other people took the embers from that fire immediately and started creating their own things. It’s a great honour to have been influential, and it’s also a shame that at the time we didn’t seem to have gotten that feedback. I’ve always felt like we just missed out where we should have been by those six months. If we had just held on, there were up and coming bands like Heresy or Napalm Death, and that scene opened up a lot and became much more available publicly. Off the back of that of course you had the grunge thing in the States and I kind of saw those things as being connected. A lot of these musicians had a sort of punk past and the metal/punk influence too. So it was a great shock to find out that Amebix had provided several of the initial ideas for people who had carried that flag on.
When we were down at Roadburn, to see people like Neurosis, it was the first time that I saw them live, I was impressed straight away. It was like, fuck, they took the ideas that we only had in our head and manifested them properly, musically, and made a living force out of this incredible music they have. It’s like a wave of power, and it’s exactly what we wanted to do but had no means of realising it. It’s very good to see that. Sepultura as well, for instance – that same friend who introduced me to the internet also introduced me to them, he played me a tape and it was like, fuck, that’s just Amebix isn’t it? [laughs] It sounded like that at the time, I recognised the riffs, and they were always happy to admit that, that they took a lot of ideas from us, so that’s really good.
The whole surreal story of everything that surrounded ‘Sonic Mass’ is fortunately well documented by now [check out the feature I did with Rob last year for Terrorizer magazine here, where the whole gruesome details are discussed], and it always impresses me how all that, which resulted in the second painful end of Amebix, didn’t kill your will to be in a band for good.
I think the fallout from the ‘Sonic Mass’ thing was awful, but I was very determined to get involved with music again because I knew there was a great deal of success in what we’d done as well. The main thing about it was that it was successful, even if we worked against all of the odds. We just used willpower to get through a period where everything was stacked against us. Through that particular storyline that we talked about when we did that interview before, it seemed that it was something that was not supposed to be, that everything was falling in the way of it, but it still manifested. Recording that album and the time out with Amebix on the road showed me that, while I might have not been sure that there was more musical stuff to be talked about in that context, I found there was actually a wellspring of it. I was very keen on tapping into that again.
The opening track, ‘Days’, for example, was an indulgence for me, I wanted to do something atmospheric and it turned out a softly almost spoken-word thing. To set that as an album opener was a bold decision, and it convinced me that I need to find out more things vocally. In the early Amebix days, we didn’t know anything about PAs or anything like that, the idea was just to shout as loud as we could. I’d end up with a bleeding throat, and I couldn’t sing after three gigs. These days I want to find out more about singing, both about the clean voice and refining the dirty voice as well, both those things are complementary, and everything else in between too. It’s a line of inquiry again, a challenge that I’ve presented to myself and I’ll go through that. It’s like learning to make a sword, now I’ll learn how to make a song. [laughs] It’s a craft, isn’t it? It’s about learning how to use the tools that are available to you. As a blacksmith, they’re obviously very primal and simple things, the fire and the hammer and the anvil. As a musician, I guess it’s the imagination, and for me the development of the tool of the voice to carry that imagination. As well as the lyrical side, for me, I want to get into writing well because I believe firmly in the power of lyrics to transmit ideas and to involve others in your landscape that they also share.
I mentioned Celtic Frost before, and there’s actually some parallels between the musical trajectory both you and Thomas Gabriel Fischer have gone through. Super influential pioneer band in the 80s, check, painful break up, check, amazing return in the 21st century with a gigantic record, check, second painful break up, check, soldiering on with a brilliant new band, check. I interviewed Thomas a couple of years ago, and he told me how he felt a deep responsibility with Triptykon now, because he’d feel silly starting yet another band in his 50s. Do you feel any of that too?
[pause] Not yet. I haven’t felt it as an imperative, I think. There is of course some responsibility when you bring other people into this sphere of your life, but everybody else in the band is very autonomous, they’re all doing their own thing, so it’s basically a mutual thing that we’re working on together. Everybody is bringing their stuff into the centre that is the band. For me it’s a very fulfilling expression of what I want personally to get across. But that is a very interesting question, I hadn’t thought of it like that. I do know that I have no mind to do anything else. This band is very much where I want to be right now, and the people I want to be playing it with. We’ve come across this group of six people who are really good together, we have a great time, we work very well, we don’t have any bullshit going on. You usually get at least the one guy who is difficult or something like that, but we don’t. So, responsibility… perhaps, to a degree, but while in the beginning Tau Cross did feel like my beast, now it’s become the creature of everybody else too. I was talking to Away the other day in Oslo – where actually the guy who used to be in Mayhem showed up, Maniac, turns out he’s a long time Amebix fan and it was very nice to meet him – he told me that this reminded him when Voivod was starting to take off. There’s interest, there’s a good buzz around the band, there’s a lot of energy. It’s all available for us.
(main photo by Meg Miller)