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The Listening Party: Marco Serrato and Borja Díaz

orthodox

The Listening Party aims to connect songwriters to their influences and speak to the inspired fan in us all. After an interview discussing songwriting methods, I choose music for artists to deliberate, and in turn they provide songs that have impacted their craft. In a perfect world, this would occur with libations and prolonged discussion. Improvise at your own will.

Over the course of six-albums and a handful of EPs, Orthodox have bridged the worlds of experimental doom, free jazz, and the avant-garde. The Seville, Spain-based duo requires the listener to forgo the constraints of traditional composition and enter a world of unbridled creation. I spoke with bassist Marco Serrato and drummer Borja Díaz about their creative process.

What are some of your earliest and/or biggest musical influences and how do they factor in your songwriting?

Marco Serrato: When I started playing, I was mostly into thrash metal bands. Some of that bands and musicians still my favorites today, and there’s some attitude I always try to keep with me, like the aggressive dirty sound. But most of all it always reminds me of the working class teenager who wanted to make his own music. I never left vibe that somehow.

Borja Díaz: Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, or Morbid Angel are some names that keep inspiring me for playing and writing music. I think that the biggest inspiration from them are to play with intensity and conviction regardless of the music you’re doing. It doesn’t matter the language or the style, it matters the communication and the message. Also, Metallica and Iron Maiden did some formative part, as well as your Earache, Nuclear Blast, and Relapse stuff… today I love what our brothers Dead Neanderthals do.

When did Orthodox shift toward pure improvisation, and what were the contributing factors?

Serrato: I wouldn’t say we shift to pure improvisation. “Supreme” or “Kreas” are not pure improvisation because the materials we use and the room we have to play with them was, in fact, planned and very limited. At the same time, you can find similar improvisation passages in our first album’s (middle section of “Geryon’s Throne,” “Templos,” “Ascensión”…). Of course, Borja and myself have been drawing into free improvisation during the last five years with other projects. We’ve learnt a few things about technique, listening and how to dive among chaos, which I suppose will have had some impact on Orthodox too.

Díaz: Since the beginning, we’ve done some recordings that approached improvisation from our metal angle, for example playing free while doing it aggressively and as crazy as possible without a using a proper “riff” or “rhythm.” But none of these recordings were used for our full-lengths; for them, we keep the improv limited to certain segments of the music, and always at the service of the song. The improvisation were for us like starting at Point A and going in direction to Point B, doing the trip without many rules… When Marco started to use more his double bass, and we started to play with more wind musicians in Orthodox, but also in bands like Hidden Forces Trio and Sputnik Trio, is when we get deeper in our improv thing, and we took it to the extreme in Supreme and Kréas. But it’s not pure improvisation, we alway play using an idea.

Do tracks come together via a central riff that someone develops or is the process conceived spontaneously as a group?

Serrato: Most of the times Ricardo or myself brought some riff or ideas that we tried to put them together. Other times comes from a more abstract idea that we could even discuss previously… but we don’t follow any rules about that. Sometimes I’ve done almost finished tracks at home and other times things started in the rehearsal room from a drums idea.

Díaz: It depends, usually we work beginning with a riff and developing it the whole band, especially in the beginning when we had guitar. Right now, our bass/drums stuff is worked that way, while other things like the ones we did in Sentencia or Axis are mixed with written parts by Marco and improvised things. On the other hand, Supreme doesn’t have a riff, a motiv, a rhythm, it’s more like an idea, a mood, a vibe of slow heavy improv space where you don’t get your fingers caught at anything.

What separates improv from disparate jamming and how do you know when you’ve locked into something special?

Serrato: When you’re improvising, you must feel the whole sound flowing. The first thing for me is choosing the right texture and the mood: instrumentation, timbres, and the vibe for the piece. Disparate jamming can be fun and can even lead you to interesting places, but at some point you would feel that the flow is interrupted, the direction is lost, things don’t grow or don’t walk.

Díaz: Usually we try to have and idea about what we want to achieve (like we can play free but we can’t play a steady or rock/metal rhythm, or we have to try to keep the sound droney with space without playing something similar to a solo), or having a melody and improvising around it (i.e. “Alto Padre”). Sometimes we just get it loose and let the music flows… sometimes it works and you have moments where the inspiration shines, and sometimes you have utter crap. You need to know when you have utter crap.

What were some of your gateways to experimental music and where do you see it heading in the future?

Serrato: I was starting to study music about 15 years ago, discovering free jazz, XX century composers, and listening to bands like Earth, SunnO))), Mainliner, or discovering Captain Beefheart. Later I discovered all that free improvisation scene with people like Barry Guy or Simon H. Fell. But the seed was on me since me teenage with the weirdest recordings by bands like Celtic Frost, Black Flag, or Napalm Death. I couldn’t say about the future, to many doors have been open, so I think everything will be growing in every direction. Which is great.

Díaz: The Painkiller stuff was a gateway for me, it made me listen to things like Peter Brötzmann, Keiji Haino, Burning Spear, or Cocteau Twins. Simon H. Fell and The Thing were a gateway to “proper improvised music.” I don’t know, Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, and Variations on a Theme were also really abstract at the beginning and opened my ears… I always heard something experimental in the weirdest stuff of the bands I love so… For the future, I personally would like to do a bass/drum heavy albums with songs where we could mix the epic power of the riff with the edge and fire of the improvisation. Let’s see…

Aaron’s Picks

Mr. Bungle — “Everyone I Went To High School With Is Dead”

Serrato: I listened to this a few times back in the day, never really hooked to it. But I must say Disco Volante was an inspired effort. Despite being such an experimental work with so many different ideas it works perfectly. I think Billy Anderson did a great job here, he is one of our favourite producers/engineers ever.

This song is sick, the bass sounds awesome, and the ideas dropped by everyone are great. Although I like some of Mike Patton’s stuff, I think he’s quite overrated for some people, but this album is one of his best works ever. All the musicians involved are great.

Díaz: This is one of my favorite Billy Anderson productions, he really should be proud of that! What I love about Mr. Anderson is that he adapts to the budget and works with that, he always do different things and doesn’t have a “signature sound stamp” like other producers… Mr. Bungle here are really trying to do a mixed bag of different influences in the form of songs, and with the support of a major label! Hail to that. I personally really like Trey Spruance’s take on death/thrash, developed in some of his later works.

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John Coltrane — “Ascension”

Serrato: We were really into that Coltrane era at the very beginning of Orthodox. In fact, we were working in our “Ascension” composition (the main one at our album Sentencia) even before we recorded “Gran Poder.” We were trying to make our weird mix of Ligeti meets Coltrane or something like that… we even recorded “Amanecer en Puerta Oscura” because our writing process was not finished two years after we started the track. The connection with Coltrane is so obvious that we even used the same title as some kind of homage. As our composition, it starts with a very simple theme. They took that simple little blues call that sounds like some kind of “universal blues,” with everyone playing around it… it’s not chaos, sounds more like a celebration, some kind of ecstasy. To me, it sounds like every music from every time and space is put in there: Total Music. This period was a pinnacle for music; Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler… they were all doing great stuff and taking music to a level never seen or heard before. And at some point, never reached again. Infinite source of inspiration.

Díaz: I want to add that this is one of the heaviest and more abstract playing by Elvin Jones. And it just fits perfectly the openness and sense of constant searching of the composition. To some ears, “Ascension” might sound like chaotic or riot music; to me, it resonates with a deep sense of relief and peace, similar to other late period Coltrane music.

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Earth — “Land of Some Other Order”

Serrato: This was the great “comeback” of Earth, and Dylan Carlson took everyone by surprise. With all the drone thing around, he released that album with clean guitars that sounded like some kind of development from Neil Young’s Dead Man soundtrack, but still sounding as one of the heaviest thing ever heard. It was released by the time we recorded “Gran Poder” and we got to see them at Barcelona supporting Sunn O))) a few months after that. It was amazing.

Harmonically he changed from fifths and octaves to fourths and sixths, which gave new flavor to the whole thing. But it kept very tied to the root note giving always that “drone” feeling, even if there’s not a typical “drone guitar” behind the whole sound.

It had a great impact on us, and I think it had some influence on our next two albums. Not exactly what he was doing on guitar but that sense of being very heavy using other tools and working in a different way instead of the classic thing everybody does. You know, could it still sound really heavy without a distorted guitar playing riffs? Dylan Carlson showed everyone that the answer is YES. You can take all that eight-string guitars with crazy bass drums and will sound like toy music compared to this.

Díaz: Creative music released in a creative period of time by a supporting and creative label. Great times to be around and be inspired to do stuff.

Marco’s picks

The Obsessed — “Lunar Womb”

This is my favourite album ever recorded by Wino and my favourite The Obsessed lineup as well. This thing had a huge impact on me when I found it around 1995. This song in particular is amazing; first you got all this “riff festival” and then they get straight into the “song” with this killer riff and Wino singing better than never. The lyrics are also great. Perfect match.

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Big Business — “Easter Romantic”

This album just blew me away when it came out and this song sets me on fire everytime I listen to it. Sounds like an epic version of Motörhead. Although the group is based on bass and drums the guitar details are the cherry on the cake. Praises to that vocal performance!

Dead Neanderthals — “Prime”

This is one of my favorite bands alive. I started as a fan, and luckily, after two little tours together, we became good friends. Specially with the drummer, René, who to my surprise was into Orthodox before we got in touch (after I purchased some of their stuff at bandcamp). I was blown away by his “Jazzhammer” performance, and I started to follow all their steps pretty close. They sometimes are joined by Colin Webster with which they form a perfect team. They recorded “…and it ended badly” with him, amazing album, and then came “Prime,” one of his masterpieces. A juggernaut blast of “unrest violent grind jazz” that I hope time puts in its place. They performed that album every night at the dates we did together… a unique experience.

Grajo — “Golden Cemetery (Betrayal)”

Is “pop-doom” already a genre? This band is from Córdoba and they sound like Goatsnake playing Blondie covers. Great sound, great vocals, and they produce perfect doom “singles” like that one. My son loves them, they’re one of the rare few bands he digs aside from Maiden, Motörhead, and Saxon.

Kris Kristofferson — “Casey’s Last Ride”
If the thing is about a perfect song in classic terms of craft, my vote goes for that one. My father had a compilation with stuff from his first two albums. These two albums are full of awesome songs that have accompanied me since I first heard them in my teenage. I’m a normal guy who loves songs about losers and broken hearts.

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Borja’s picks

Thin Lizzy — “The Hero and the Madman”

This is from one of my favorites by them, Vagabonds of the Western World. I love their more edgier, rocker/metal stuff that made them famous, but the first three records with Eric Bell are something else to me, with its romantic Hendrix inspired folk rock. This song has a cool bass line and voice (how much soul Phil had on him? Are you prepared to receive so much SOUL?), weird arrangements and a supreme guitar solo. And Brian Downey is a really underrated drummer, give the man more praise!

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Napalm Death — “Evolved as One”

Here the brummies highlight their industrial/Swans influences and put some slow heaviness on their manic speed. For me, Mick Harris’ drumming is visionary on this track; I don’t try to make a chronology, but I think that Dale Crover developed this kind of mammoth percussive attack, and Justin Greaves also did a great job on that. Rich Hoak and Joey LaCaze did some assault drum too, but with the downbeat on the snare… I’m citing all these names because are the ones I’ve had near my heart doing “wardrobe falling on the stairs” drumming with Orthodox.

Manorexia — “Fluorescent Radiation” and “Canaries in the Mineshaft”

This is a JG Thirlwell project where the man develops his music into contemporary/experimental dark music – less funky big band and more classical orchestra. I like how he works with samples and layers of orchestration and percussives, making the whole thing an aural trip. In fact, all his stuff I like had that cinematic feel. He’s like an electronic Morricone… I put two songs just to show how it works together. We’re not directly inspired by him, but some of our most rewarding recordings have that same feel to me.

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Zeni Geva — “Ground Zero”

KK Null and company are masters in melting prog rock and heavy influences with keys and FX… actually, their electronic arrangements are some of the coolest stuff on their songs, and enhance the sound, they’re not add-on shit with no purpose. I’m sure Today Is The Day and Neurosis took lessons in extremity from the japanese lads… This song is an overview of the Freedom Bondage album, closing it…

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Moho – “180º”

Sticks and stones sludge rock from Spain. Moho were the best live band we had in our country in the 2000s. This song is one of their catchiest ones, from their second album. But this isn’t the real deal, you had to experience how they destroyed you onstage. They were a really inspiring live band, and Edu is the most passionate savage that bashes skins from all of us Spaniards… HAIL!

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Guru Guru — “Der LSD — Marsch”

The krauts attack, prepare to get stronger brains and habits. Flow.

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