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Aseethe and the Punctuated Evolution of “Throes”

aseethe cover

Brian Barr makes sure that Aseethe, the band he formed 12 years ago, is a platform for his political views. Using droning, doomy post-metal as a vehicle for such activism is not as common as in other genres, something which is not lost upon the guitarist/vocalist.

“Vile Creature, one of our tour mates, they’d be another [similar] band that’s political as well,” he said on the phone from his Iowa City home. “There are a couple of us out there. But you’d be right, doom and stuff like this tends to be like ‘we’re all about weed,'” he laughed.

The latest Aseethe release Throes (out May 17th via Thrill Jockey) addresses his concerns about climate change (he was feeding his six-year old son while doing this interview and wondered what kind of place he would live in as he grew up), the prison industrial complex, and the global rise of fascism.

It just does so to a soundtrack of pummeling slow-moving molten-core with subtleties and complexities that are just as worthy of listening more closely to discover as the lyrical message.

Everybody talks to you about Slipknot and Iowa. How sick are you of having to defend your state?

At this point, it’s just kind of hilarious because there are so many good bands in Iowa. Some of the bands here are actually starting to get more known. You have Druids and Closet Witch, Telekinetic Yeti, and stuff like that. So I feel like maybe in the next couple of years, that will start to fade away. I mean, obviously, Slipknot’s one of the biggest bands in the world as far as heavy music and they’re good. I personally have never seen them live ever [laughter]. But yeah, we get asked about that once in a while.

Aseethe has many, many splits and EPs and things of that nature, and this is your third full-length. It seems to me the full-length format would be more up the band’s alley given your proclivity for long songs rather than all the splits, but perhaps that comes from a punk-rock background?

Yeah, all of us come from more of the hardcore punk background, and a lot of it’s never planned. Friends will just ask us to do a split and we’ll be like, “Okay, well, we’ve got one song started.”

In the past, it’s always taken like six months to work on a song. Each song kind of just goes through a lot of — it evolves and it takes a while for us to write it and put it together and piece it together how we like it. A lot of the songs, too, start off a little busier and we just kind of strip them away.

Nothing’s ever planned. Up until recently — recent years — nothing was ever planned. We were just kind of working on stuff. If friends asked us to do a split, we’d be like, “All right, cool. We have this song or a few songs worked out.” We’ll do a split and later on, maybe we’ll do a full-length. So it’s just more of just kind of rolling with it I would say.

Does having Thrill Jockey involved sort of change that dynamic a bit? Thrill Jockey isn’t a major label, but they’re definitely a big label in terms of heavy music in the independent world, and I’d imagine that they’re a little keener on specifics in planning.

Bettina [Richards] the owner of the label just kind of brought up recording a new album maybe six [or] seven months before we actually went into the studio and recorded. We had some stuff [we had] worked on so then we kind of started putting the pedal to the metal and started working on new material.

This one was the first record that we went into a studio we knew Thrill Jockey was putting it out. A lot of those plans were already made, whereas when we recorded Hopes of Failure, we weren’t even signed to Thrill Jockey. We knew them and had worked with them; they distributed two EPs of ours. We just sent it to them to see if they wanted to work with us. So this would be the first one where it was like, “How about some new recordings, guys?”

Did that change anything, even subconsciously? Did having your first recording bankrolled by Thrill Jockey add extra pressure?

Yeah. Oh yeah. Definitely. I can’t speak for Eric [Diercks] and Noah [Koester] but I probably went through a billion existential crises in my own head leading up to recording and writing it.
Every band wants to top their last record so that was in my mind. I definitely wanted to top Hopes of Failure. I also wanted the songs, the album and everything, to piece together and be more of an evolved sound from Hopes of Failure. So there was a lot of pressure, mainly coming from my own self because I’m my own worst critic, to make these songs even more complete on this album.

Noah replaced your brother Danny in the band which seems like a fairly big change.

Aseethe was [Danny’s] first band that ever did really much anything. When he joined the band we ended up signing with Thrill Jockey within less than a year of him being in the band. Eric and I, we’ve been playing, touring for over fifteen years. Eric and I have been playing in bands together for 25 years, so we’ve kind of worked towards this, and so has Noah to a certain degree.

So we’re cool. He left the band on his own terms. No one can replace being in a band with your brother, but Noah — we’ve known him for so long, we’ve been friends with him for 20 years — he’s a good replacement.

It must have been a good fit. According to the press material, Noah jumped right and contributed most of the lyrics.

Yes, he probably wrote 75% of them. Most of the record, music-wise and how it was structured, was me. Those guys came up with their own parts and everything like that, but most of the structures of all the songs I spent two or three months leading up to the studio playing guitar every night and working on stuff. Basically because of their work schedules they didn’t have that much time to put into it.

Noah’s a way better lyricist than me. In his other band [In the Mouth of Radness], he writes pages of lyrics. We had a general idea; Noah and I, we had talked about the ideas of some of the lyrics of the songs. I pretty much had a paragraph or two of general lyrics. When we got into the studio, we did the music and then got time to do the vocals. He had most of the songs kind of written and he just kind of pulled from my lyrics to fill in his. So it turned into a little bit of a collaborative effort, but most of it being headed by Noah.

In contrasting Throes to the rest of your discography, in my notes I originally wrote “more complex” but then crossed it out and changed it to “more textured.”

Oh, I 100% agree with you on that one! I actually probably even used that describing the album to people. Yeah, you nailed it. To make things heavy, working from a minimalist, simplistic palette is always better. It just makes things heavier the less busy they are.

With this album partially the reason there’s a little more guitar texture is because Noah does a little bit more. I feel more comfortable stepping back from always playing low with Noah in the band. He always adds a little bit more so it’s driven me to write a little bit more and add a little bit more guitar work. So I think that’s kind of why this album turned out that way.

aseethe band

On the title track which we were previewing, right about midway through, it suddenly becomes this kind of post-hardcore thing. It reminded me of the band Ceremony but played at about half the speed. There’s a progressiveness that seeps into the sound.

We’ve never had that description tied on us so that’s cool to hear.

Maybe it’s just a function of, like you mentioned, being more confident to step outside your comfort zones.

Yeah, it definitely is. The lows are there with Noah and I can play more leads, for lack of a better term, or play higher textures or melodies. I can do more than have to rely on just being heavy and playing rhythm guitar.

Another song that really struck out at me was “No Realm.” It reminded me of the punk that Flipper specialized in.

Probably the one band that is a constant thread between all three of us is Fugazi. We were joking when we were writing it and demoing that song, we were like, “What is this? What is this song?” We finally decided it was Doomgazi!

“Suffocating Burden” also stands out. It’s probably the shortest thing that you’ve ever done, less than four minutes long, all-instrumental, and droney. It’s quite a departure sonically.

With that track Eric uses a gong and a bass amp, and then uses microphones to create a feedback loop of the gong. So what you’re hearing for the main part of that track is a gong actually vibrating from feedback. That’s creating that note and that drone. Then I added some extra noise and used a contact mic at home. Then we had a friend of ours come in the studio and do a bunch of feedback.

Initially that gong track was like 16 minutes long. We were trying to figure out what we wanted to do with it. It fit really well within an album if we checked it to this length, it kind of fit as one side of the album. But also at 16 minutes, it was very much like Eric created all of these movements, and I kind of picked the best movement that I thought would fit in with the track.

Also, going back to what you said, we’re trying to do stuff a little different[ly]. Before, we probably would have built that into a whole 20-minute long song, but we were trying to experiment with having shorter songs with more ideas, rather than having one or two long songs and trying to paste all those ideas together. I feel like it adds more dynamics as a four-minute drone track. I think that’s pretty good to keep people’s attention unless they really are like me and can drive down the highway listening to Sunn O))).

I got to tell you, if you keep making records manipulating gong sounds, more people are going to start accusing the band of being progressive.

[Laughs] We’re okay with that.

Aseethe’s Throes releases May 17th via Thrill Jockey Records. The band will be touring the Midwest this month, dates below:

May 16 – Omaha, NE – Midtown Art Supply
May 17 – Sturgis, SD – Kickstands Campground & Venue *
May 18 – Des Moines, IA – Vaudeville Mews *
May 19 – Minneapolis, MN – 7th St Entry *
May 20 – Rock Island, IL – Ribco *
May 21 – Indianapolis, IN – Black Circle Brewing *
May 22 – Lexington, KY – Cosmic Charlie’s *
May 23 – Pittsburgh, PA – Brillobox *
May 24 – Columbus, OH – Dirty Dungarees Laundromat & Bar
May 25 – Chicago, IL – Sleeping Vilage w/ Bloodyminded
Jun. 8 – Iowa City, IA – Trumpet Blossom w/ Stay Asleep
Jul. 4 – Rock Island, IL – Wake Brewing w/ Conan
Jul. 17 – Iowa City, IA – Gabe’s w/ UN
Jul. 20 – Minneapolis, MN – Hexagon Bar w/ Druids, Snow Burial
* w/ Primitive Man

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