The post metal astronauts from Pennsylvania are going to land in Belgrade in front of the “KC Grad” on August 3rd. After existing no less than 12 years, this is going to be their first visit here and they are doing so with the newly published album “Quintessential Ephemera“. In order to get our audience acquainted with the band, we managed to talk to the guitarist, Matt Weed, about the concept of the newest album, the philosophy of the band and about why has the band that hadn’t had any problems with their publishing in the past decided to self-publish their albums.
Balkanrock: You’re visiting the Balkans for the first time. What kind of atmosphere do you expect in the cities you’re visiting?
Matt: We’ve heard nothing but good things, and have had many requests to play there over the years. Should be a fun time!
BR: We’ll have the opportunity to hear songs from the new album “Quintessential Ephemera”, which was released on June 22nd. It seems that this time everything will be called “Untitled”, even though we got used to your really interesting song titles; which makes our understanding of the concept of the album a little bit difficult. Could you tell us a bit more about the background of the album?
Matt: It’s an exploration of the dehumanizing influence of technology on our lives. In a nutshell, the concept is “technology promises us utopia but costs us humanity.” It keeps our focus on trivial things to the exclusion of important issues, and while it gives the illusion of greater connectedness, it makes people feel isolated and alone.
BR: If we go back in time a bit and take a look at your first album, “The Galilean Satellites”, or the following one – “Wake/Lift”, it seems that, as time went by, you’ve distanced yourselves from the “space” themes. How does an astronaut feel as he falls back onto the Earth?
Matt: It was just a natural progression as we wanted to begin to speak more directly about things that concerned us. The first two albums were giant metaphors. From “A Determinism Of Morality” forward, we became interested in shorter and more urgent and direct songwriting, and the conceptual themes naturally followed those new priorities.
BR: “The Galilean Satellites” was quite a complex idea considering the fact that the release comprised of two discs that can be listened to at the same time. Where did that idea come from? Can we expect similar experiments in the future?
Matt: When we wrote Galilean we were just trying to push the limits of what was possible. We didn’t stop to ask ourselves what motivated any particular compositional decision, we just said “why not?” The second disc was almost entirely improvised in our home studio, while listening to a rough mix of the first disc. So the second disc formed a kind of interpretive response to the first. We didn’t think the label would want to put it out, but they said yes and we just went with it. There was no grand plan at the time, we were just having fun.
BR: This is your second self-released studio album (the previous one being “The Anaesthete” in 2013). What makes self-releases (and to what degree) more advantageous than the usual album release processes?
Matt: It removes the middleman to a large extent. There’s definitely more financial pressure during production because the band is on the hook for all the expenses – so we have to be very careful about what we spend money on. But then when the album comes out, it can recoup in a matter of days or even hours just from digital sales. Before you even get in the van to go on tour, the album is already going around the world ahead of you, and that’s a great feeling. We definitely feel more connected with our fans now than we ever have before. It’s their support that enables us to keep making music.
BR: The fact that you recorded the album as a group of five (this time including Eric Jernigan from the band City of Ships – you’ve collaborated with him at earlier times as well) is yet another novelty. How much has Eric influenced the band’s style with his guitar and vocals?
Matt: Well I think that we still sound distinctly like Rosetta, but we did feel more free than in the past to experiment with new harmonic textures and new vocal techniques. Eric is a competent songwriter, not just a guitarist or vocalist, so he immediately found a voice in our democratic writing process. I think the record is stronger for having that new presence. Vocally, he was able to bridge the gap between Dave’s very very clean singing and Armine’s screaming, giving us the full range. That was inspiring enough that even BJ and I contributed vocals to the record.
BR: What does having someone make a documentary about you feel like (Justin Jackson: “Rosetta: Audio/Visual”)?
Matt: Pretty strange actually. Justin worked on that project for about four years, so for that entire period we would often have someone following us around with a camera. Most of what he shot didn’t make it into the film, simply because there’s no way to compress four years of content into 70 minutes, but I’m happy that he got to make the film he wanted to make. We didn’t have any editorial say over the film’s content. That’s a little bit scary, but it’s the honest way to go. If we had tried to control the content, it would have just been a commercial for the band, not a documentary.
BR: The name of the film itself suggests the visual part of your identity, which is, if I may add, incredibly strong. Who do you work with when it comes to the album covers, and how much do they correlate to the album itself?
Matt: We’ve had a different artist for every full-length album. It’s strange that we have a reputation for confrontational imagery or covers that make people uncomfortable, since we actively avoid branding and try to have each record be visually distinct. With each artist, we’ve been very careful to give them the whole concept and as much musical content as we have available at the time, but we also are very loose with direction. So it’s up to each to come up with their interpretation of the concept we give them.
BR: I’ve read on different occasions that Mike Armine does not particularly like adding lyrics to the albums. Even though that leaves it to personal and individual interpretation of the songs, does it bother you that some people might not have the slightest idea what he is singing about?
Matt: In practice it hasn’t been an issue not to have them in the albums. People still figure them out and there’s never a shortage of singalongs at shows. The problem we had was people scouring the lyrics for easter eggs and hidden meanings (which usually weren’t there to begin with) and not really listening to the music. The music is not an accompaniment for the lyrics. The lyrics are just one element, associated with a single instrument (the voice) in the ensemble. That instrument is no more primary than any other. To actually be understood, the vocals need to be contextualized in the music.
BR: I remember that I bugged so many people around me to listen to “that new thing” when I first listened to Rosetta. What are the newly discovered bands that the members of Rosetta bug their friends with?
Matt: Lately it’s been old bands rediscovered more than anything else. Oceansize‘s discography was huge for me last year and I bugged Dave and Eric endlessly to listen to it. We really liked the new Swervedriver and Failure records, too. And I always bug people to listen to Stars of the Lid and A Winged Victory for the Sullen.