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Interview: Crooked Necks

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Crooked Necks have always been a mysterious band. They first surfaced in 2006 under the name Frail, with the release of Brilliant Darkness, a bold mix of emotive melodies and harsh vocals. They didn’t reemerge until 2009, when they were rechristened Crooked Necks and recorded a split with Circle of Ouroborus. The split wiped away the tape hiss of their debut EP, and revealed a band dedicated to exploring new sounds, and doing so beautifully. Yet the duo – known to fans only as Shane and Andy – have done few interviews, and garner little attention from critics.

This year’s release of Alright Is Exactly What It Isn’t – their most refined material to date – is looking to change that, however. It touches upon metal, and will attract fans of “blackgaze”, but has no use for orthodoxy or labels. And it’s emotionally evocative in a way that few albums have been this year. We spoke with Shane, who handles all of the band’s instrumentation, about the album’s genesis, the foundation of Crooked Neck’s sound, and more.

— Michael Cacciatore

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I have the understanding that Alright Is Exactly What It Isn’t has been around for awhile now – there’s a post on your MySpace dating back to ’09, that says the album was finished. What’s the story behind that delay?

Several factors caused the delay in the release of Alright. Initially, we had planned to release it via a label that our vocalist was preparing to launch at the time of the LP’s completion. However, the idea for the label ended up being abandoned. There was also a period of stagnation for us, due to several reasons, creative and personal.

Finally, we were in talks with another label (which shall remain nameless) for nearly a year. We were unable to agree on the terms that it would be released under, so we decided not to go that route either. R. from Handmade Birds had already shown interest in releasing all of our unreleased material, so it was a very natural decision to offer him the release, due to his unwavering support of this project.

So was it recorded around the same time as the split with Circle of Ouroborus? I ask because there are a lot similarities between the two releases, but Alright is much softer and dreamier, almost like it’s the flip-side of your end of that split, which were a lot more percussion-driven, and, seemingly, more influenced by black metal.

Actually, the material for the split with Circle of Ouroborus was completed in 2008, whereas the material for Alright was completed in July of 2009. The similarities between the two releases are indeed apparent, due to the material for the split being our first step in our current direction. However, as you previously stated, there are some differences as well. Most notably, the full-length has an overall lush and fragile vibe compared to the more uptempo material from the split.

Nothing we’ve ever done with this project has been influenced by black metal, or metal in general, for that matter. We realize that this may not be apparent to those outside of the project. We’ve always tried to focus on what comes naturally to us, and I suppose the black metal influences that people recognize were more subconscious on our behalf, rather than intentional.

That’s interesting, because the more I listened to you guys, the less “metal” you seemed – but the band’s difficult to categorize regardless. I know you cite the Cure as a major influence; do you see Crooked Necks in that vein of dark pop music? Or something completely different?

Yes, I completely agree that we aren’t an easy band to classify, which is something that I’ve always admired when it comes to other acts. I find it much more rewarding to experience a band which forces you to decipher their style in your own terms, rather than basing that experience on a nice, neat, predetermined description. This helps avoid preconceived notions of what you should or shouldn’t expect from art, which is essential, in my opinion. We absolutely see ourselves as dark pop music, along with strains of post-punk and similar subgenres. I would like to think that we are somewhat separate from any “scene” or style in general, due to our unconventional approach to writing and recording. We place the utmost importance on individuality and originality.

What makes your writing/recording process unconventional?

One aspect that makes it a bit unusual is that we don’t record together cohesively. I always record the instrumentation alone, separate from Andy, and vice-versa when he records the vocals. We also never share any ideas or expectations from one another. I don’t give him any indication of what direction I’m taking the music in, and he keeps me just as “in the dark” when it comes to his input. I personally find this technique very gratifying and exciting, as it tends to yield unexpected results. Not to mention, it aids in letting the material take its own natural course without any planned direction.

And you two self-produce, right? There is a lot detail in Alright, and it’s definitely an album that’s best experienced on headphones. Does your writing process affect the production as well?

Yes, that is correct. We self-produce/self-record all of our material at our dwellings. It was indeed intentional that an immense degree of detail be incorporated into our sound. I feel that recordings in this manner do tend to benefit from closed environments, such as listening with headphones. It’s not on purpose that our writing process affects the production of the recordings, although perhaps it does have some sort of effect on the end result. This could possibly stem from each of us having individual recording techniques that are employed when recording our respective parts.

Do you have any particular inspirations in that regard? Your guitar sound, in particular, can sometime evoke other bands, but it’s always distinctly Crooked Necks.

Not necessarily in that regard. Although, we do admittedly have numerous influences which have played a part in shaping our overall sound, to a certain extent. Our influences have always been more indirect than direct, as we strive to obtain our own identity.

Concerning guitar, I’ve always been influenced by texture and functionality, rather than skill and ability. To me, it’s about setting an overall atmosphere instead of displaying one’s ability to play an instrument. The guitar work present in the majority of the works by The Cure, Slowdive, the Chameleons UK, and Sonic Youth among several others have always been highly influential for me personally.

Although this may be impossible to pinpoint, what emotions or ideas informed the creation of Alright‘s atmosphere? Or, at least, what feelings were you trying to evoke in listeners?

Alright‘s overall atmosphere was intended to be conducive to time spent in solitude, specifically during the night-time hours. For me, it’s an album which can serve as a tool to aid in self-reflection. I’ve described it in the past as “songs for Wednesday nights spent alone”. Emotions such as loneliness, melancholy, and detachment definitely informed the vibe of the material. But there are also bittersweet moments which it evokes as well. Memories of times gone by, unrepairable relationships, and things that are lost which cannot be regained.

Well, I first started listening to Crooked Necks when I was taking a lot of late-night walks by myself, so I think it definitely comes across.

Great! It’s pleasing to know that you found our material to be complementary to those late-night walks.

To go backwards a bit, you cite the Chameleons as being influential on your sound. You don’t hear them mentioned as an influence by many bands, but I know Neige of Alcest is constantly referencing them. There’s a lot of common ground between you guys and that wing of black metal, but there are real differences too – are you guys into that stuff personally?

The Chameleons are most certainly a major influence on me. You’re correct in your assessment that they aren’t commonly noted as being very influential, which is really unfortunate. I’ve found immeasurable value in their works, and continue to do so with time. However, personally speaking, I have zero interest in Alcest, Amesoeurs, or similar projects.

So is there anything you’re working on right now? There was a listing on Handmade Birds for a release (and rerecording) of Brilliant Darkness, but it disappeared around the time that Alright was announced. Is that still happening?

Our vocalist is currently working on finishing incomplete material which dates back to 2009, recorded during the same sessions as Alright. The re-release/re-recordings of Brilliant are indeed still scheduled to be released via Handmade Birds sometime in the future. They were postponed in order to push forward the release of the full-length. We and the label agreed that it would be more suitable to have the full-length released before the re-recordings, due to the immense delay we had experienced in releasing Alright. I’m also planning on beginning the writing process for the next full-length in the very near future as well.

Any talks of touring? Does Crooked Necks even play live?

There are no plans of touring at this time. Unfortunately, we’re unable to perform live due to being a two-piece. I would have no way of reproducing all of the instrumentation solely by myself in a live setting. Also, the two of us now reside in separate states, which prevents us from being able to find live sessions members and rehearse together as a unit.

Anything else you want to say that we didn’t get to? Been listening to anything good lately?

Many thanks to you and Invisible Oranges for the support/interest in our project!

I usually only listen to harsh noise/power electronics/industrial noise on a regular basis, as well as a lot of ’80s-era post-punk/goth/shoegaze/pop-type stuff. As of late, artists on regular rotation here include Skin Graft, Macronympha, Haus Arafna, Test Dept, the Comsat Angels, the Sound, Nico, Depeche Mode, and a plethora of others. I’ve also been listening to the new Björk and Zola Jesus LPs a lot lately as well.

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HEAR ALRIGHT IS EXACTLY WHAT IT ISN’T

Crooked Necks – “Every Step Seems Backwards”

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Crooked Necks – “Forgetting to Remember to Forget”

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Crooked Necks – “Streets With Teeth”

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BUY ALRIGHT IS EXACTLY WHAT IT ISN’T

Handmade Birds (LP)

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