Dead to a Dying World Talks Upcoming Album “Elegy” and Unveils New Track “Empty Hands, Hollow Hymns”
Mix viola, hurdy-gurdy, and passion as vast as the Lone Star State, and you have no other than blackened doom conglomerate Dead to a Dying World. Originating in Dallas almost one decade ago now, the seven-piece has caught attention for their unique blend of instrumentals and dual-vocal contributions from Mike Yeager and Heidi Moore. This recipe for memorability has graced the stages of Austin Terror Fest and Migration Fest, with Northwest Terror Fest 2019 serving as the latest venture on tap -- and Dead to a Dying World’s compelling live performances are the product of hard work and ingenuity when it comes to the recording process.
While 2015’s sophomore release Litany showed off their haunting orchestral displays mixed with abrasive beats, the band's upcoming third effort Elegy represents a folk-fused ebb and flow -- Dead to a Dying World’s first Profound Lore release is a well-balanced approach to their mixing of metal genres. More propelling tracks alternate with softer interludes, with one breathing life into the next like the changing of the seasons. Produced by Billy Anderson and featuring contributions from Jarboe (ex-Swans), Thor Harris (ex-Swans, Thor & Friends), Dylan Desmond (Bell Witch), and more, Elegy captures the scene of a world without humankind. As the evolution of the natural landscape mournfully plows forward, just one lone sole is left to take in the dawn or a new day.
In order to get a better understanding of the headspace in which Elegy was written, we corresponded with Dead to a Dying World guitarists Sean Mehl and James Magruder, as well as viola player Eva Vonne, about the new album. Check out an exclusive stream of the album's fourth track "Empty Hands, Hollow Hymns" below.
Of course, one of the most defining facets of Dead to a Dying World is that y'all have struck gold on your unique blend of instrumentals and vocals. Was this combination one that was actively sought out, or did it occur more out of happy happenstance?
Sean: So much of what we seek to do -- musically, creatively, conceptually -- is rooted in and necessitated by balance and natural harmony. While we are always conscious of this, the process itself tends to be more organic. We are always going to try new things -- that is our underlying musical imperative, and what ultimately allows us to go beyond and explore what we might not have thought to consider. The way vocals have played into this has always been a very gratifying process as we very much approach our collaborative studio sessions and guest contributions in this same manner.
James: If we did the same thing on every record I would get bored out of my mind. There has to be something new or different to capture unexplored textures and emotions. I don’t have the patience to make the same record three or four times. There has to be a different approach to push us forward or we are just treading water.
Can you take us through what the collaboration process is like for a band with two main vocalists, particularly when it comes to writing and recording?
James: This is the first record Heidi, Mike, and I all contributed lyrically. We knew that grieving would loom heavily on the album so we used the five stages of grief as a very loose rubric to assign each song (plus one, whoops). Then we just split the songs up between the three of us.
Sean: I’m always interested in new ways to add layers and textures in a dense, yet discernable way. Vocals are really no different, and Mike, Heidi, and James have really tapped into something special with their processes. Contributions from additional immensely talented guest vocalists really make each album process so truly unique and exciting to be a part of.
I understand Elegy looks at inadvertent self-extinction. Is there a certain world event or climate that inspired the exploration of this topic?
James: I mean we’re pretty much fucked right? Climate change, Trump-Le Pen-Corbyn, distribution of wealth, inevitable water wars, the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Things are going to come to a head this century. It will get existentially ugly for life itself. What good has humanity done for the planet? The universe doesn’t care if we ruin things. We are an evolutionary anomaly. We’ve placed ourselves beyond nature. Maybe the just thing to do is to turn the planet back over to the natural balance, without us.
Sean: Part of what draws me in so much with the concept behind Elegy is the honest and simultaneous reflection both inward and outward. Eternally we grieve for the dying world, and internally for our own loss of humanity.
Elegy is unique in that it consists of lingeringly-long tracks offset by shorter passages. What inspired this writing decision?
Eva: I think on the last album we talked about it being kinda inspired by Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” with the interludes, even though they ended up being separate entities and not necessarily variations on a theme. This go around it just seemed like natural way to play around with composition and help the narrative along.
James: Things got a little out of hand as far as song length on Litany. Writing a short song is difficult though. How do you even end one?
Sean: In a way, Litany almost reflected where we are most musically comfortable as a group with long, demanding compositions that reflect a complete thought or idea. With Elegy the challenge was to tell a similarly engrossing narrative in a more concise, and perhaps deliberate manner.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but with all of the different influences each of you as individuals bring to the table, I would assume that y'all have some pretty different personal music tastes. It is ever difficult to decide what to turn on in the van?
Eva: James banned me from playing Scorpions, so I just rock my headphones now.
James: Nonstop Maiden and Scorps on that Euro run we did as auxiliary members of Sabbath Assembly. The galloping never ended. Been playing 90’s R&B, Lilith Fair Artists, and Alternative Rock ‘88-‘96 ever since. Might explain the headphones. At least we can all agree on Aphrodite’s Child.
Sean: Yeah, definitely a no-go on Scorpions. Mostly though we all have a very wide range of influences and interested. That’s part of what makes things work so well (or not) most of the time.
So I totally forgot that you guys are from Dallas. I totally had it in my head that you were from some tiny misty Canadian town! Nevertheless, do you think growing up in Texas helped cultivate some of your folksy influences, or did those come from another place entirely?
James: I did try to add a little of the feeling of the west to this record. Certainly not “western” but the same way that Earth pairs perfectly with driving through the vast arid spaces between the Great Plains and the Sierra Nevadas. I wanted the timbre to evoke that expanse and emptiness. While Dallas is firmly deciduous (despite the portrayal in the X-Files movie) most of Texas is in that desert scrub zone. P.S. I did appreciate the “y’all” in the first question.
Sean: Dallas has always been our origins, though we’ve always been fairly spread out at any given moment. I now reside in Virginia, but there is just something distinctly Texas that is truly inescapable. Often times, growing up in places like Dallas that can seem very soulless on the surface, really forces you to dig deep to find the humanity and inspiration. I love that desperation.
Eva: The music and art from Texas definitely has its own character. It’s so isolated geographically from the rest of the country and has a culture and identity that exists in spite of others. But as far as “the west” -- James actually asked me to study the “Ravenous” soundtrack as an inspiration for the strings on this album. Also, while I still call Texas home, I’m personally living in Oregon right now and homesick for the Lone Star State.
What's the move for 2019? Aside from the release of Elegy, of course.
James: We’ve got Northwest Terror Fest in May, we will have to get up there somehow.
Sean: Off the heels of Elegy’s release, we will be touring both west and east coasts of the U.S. Keep an eye out for that!
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