Dolor’s Aggrieved Progressive Sludge Condenses a Decade of Struggle on “Let Rain Fall Eternal” (Interview)
Dolor's Let Rain Fall Eternal granted Cam Davis the seldomly presented opportunity to rework her past. She planted the album's seeds ten years ago, but life circumstances beyond her control prevented her from finishing it during her intended time frame. It turns out that delay was for the best because the group's doom metal debut reaped the benefits of a decade spent tinkering, rewriting, and reconstructing. Those years of refinement allowed Davis to communicate with her past self, to speak with a Davis who was suffering, and to find hope by improving her past work. This past June, Davis finally released Let Rain Fall Eternal on her Wisconsin-based label Blue Bedroom Records, a label marked by her continual artistic development. Davis was kind enough to answer questions about the album through Zoom. Keep reading to learn about Dolor’s formation, how Let Rain Fall Eternal came to be, how the project took on a life of its own in relation to Davis’ personal struggles, and how its lengthy development resulted in it gaining a holistic connotation.
Comparing Let Rain Fall Eternal to Davis' latest title under the name Cicada the Burrower demonstrates how much she’s progressed. The pain the former presents is blunter than Davis’ recent output. While Cicada the Borrower's Corpseflower also deals with pain, its swung jazz palette and bright lead guitar imbue it with optimism that's nowhere to be found with Dolor. Davis employed carnivorous approaches with Let Rain Fall Eternal and opted for a belabored pace to transmute her agony. It conveys the toll that mental illness plays on one’s functioning and because of that, Let Rain Fall Eternal can be a difficult listen. Its crunched production and languid tone are exhausting per David’s vision. As such, Let Rain Fall Eternal is draining as it converts the trials each member went through into sheer bluntness. Dolor's success, then, lies in how they present the past decade in the vein of rolling a boulder up a summit.
Based on the album’s description, it seems like there's plenty of lore and backstory behind Let Rain Fall Eternal. Having something resurface after a decade is cool.
It was an interesting process to create because the project started back in 2013. The rhythm section from a local tech metal band called The Unnecessary Gunpoint Lecture said, "Hey, we would love to do a project with you," and I suggested we do sludge. So, I wound up getting irresponsibly high on hash and writing a bunch of guitar tracks and recording this field recording of rain outside of my apartment one day. I tuned everything down to A flat, even though my strings could barely take it, and I passed that on to those guys. It took about two to three years for the drums to get recorded because Aaron, the drummer, is both a full-time dad and a full-time employee so he doesn’t have much time to record. So it just kept getting kicked down the road.
That was around the time I had one of several mental health crises and completely abandoned the project wholesale and let it collect cobwebs on an external hard drive. I tried to come back to it a handful of times over the next five years or so. Every time I felt terrible because I felt that I blew off the people who wanted to work with me due to bad times upstairs.
What wound up happening was around 2019 I was in a far better emotional place and wanted to tackle the album properly. I found the DAW files in the flash drive and they were unfortunately very corrupted. I was pretty bummed out but fortunately, the dude who wound up recording all the guitar takes - Ian - had saved all the drum takes for the corrupted tracks. That allowed me to see the project through. What I wound up doing in 2020 when I was temporarily unemployed was going over all the guitar parts that I had written and completely rewrote them. I tried to make something better from a miserable mess of a thing, at least by my approximation. After that, I passed it off to the bassist who finished things in a remarkably quick time, and from there it took the vocalist another year to get the vocals done.
It’s sort of this long-standing process to continually get this fucking project off of the ground.
It has a story of its own where everyone has to take away a bit of their life to contribute to it because not everyone has the time. In that sense, someone can always come in with a new perspective, which is different from how the press release put it which was more like a completed project that’d be uncovered.
Granted there are a few riffs that I kept the same because I really couldn’t improve upon them, which is flattering to my past self. It almost became a very specific creative exercise for me because not only was I trying to tie up a loose end but it was a meaningful effort to take something that I don’t think would’ve met my personal standards in the present and force it to that point.
You’re going to be a very different person ten years down the line. The things that you like, your ability to communicate feelings artistically, those are all going to be different. I felt like it was a great opportunity to see that through.
You mentioned the rainfall field recordings, which transmute strong geographic roots. Dolor has a very earthy sound and I was wondering how your geographic location played into that sound.
I lived in the heart of Madison. It’s interesting in a very balanced sense in that it splits the natural world and city life. It takes a 20-minute walk to find yourself in nature, or the same distance in the opposite direction to find yourself in hyper-constructed architecture. So, I’m sure that did play a role especially back then. I used to have severe bouts of insomnia which would lead to exhaustive night walks. I would either wander city streets or embrace what nature was performing, though there were times when I was walking in the dead of night and thick sheets of rain would come down and I feel like, out of all the songs the third one “Blighted” captures that feeling - walking in the rain, alone with one’s thoughts, playing memories over in your head.
How would your songwriting for Dolor differ from your other projects?
The biggest difference is that my other projects are solo operations or I’ll have situations where I’m responsible for the instrumentals and someone else supplies the vocals, like with Hallowed Hands. But, aside from it being an exercise in revision, I wouldn’t qualify Dolor as being art therapy but more, as silly as it sounds, a personal duty because I felt responsible for the hard work that everyone else in the project contributed. It felt like a sin to not see that through. It felt like an obligation rather than me working through some personal bullshit.
When you listen to Let Rain Fall Eternal now, do you hear those troubled parts of your life that you previously worked through?
Yeah, absolutely. Back then, every positive experience I had was undercut by this thick malaise like a muck. It affected them with a specific hue of suck, and that is something that contributed to the overall album’s vibe. It’s a bit more vicious and traditional than the stuff I work on these days which is definitely less genre-specific.
Were there certain struggles that were tough for you to go over again in the recordings?
There were struggles with the writing process itself because it took me back to a time in my life when I was bereft of joy. I guess in that way it was difficult to focus on writing, but listening to it is like seeing an old friend in that you become reacquainted with feelings I used to have.
When I wrote things initially, I didn’t realize I was a woman. That was a big thing for me. By the time I got around to recording everything, I was very firm in my identity, so there’s a meeting of minds in a way. All the softer parts that weren’t there initially are consequences of me growing up and developing confidence in myself.
It takes the younger parts of you and the current Cam Davis and melds them into one cohesive unit.
It’s one big collage.
I wanted to ask about the bands you included in your FFO (Pallbearer and Deafheaven) because Dolor doesn’t sound much like them. I was interested in why you chose those names.
Honestly, it’s funny that you say that because I wasn’t entirely sure what projects to relate Dolor to.
It's tough, because when I was listening I even thought "What would I relate this to?"
There are pieces that completely accidentally sound like Arkwork-era Liturgy. It’s all over the place. I think the soaring tremolo chords are why I picked Deafheaven. That being said, all the sludge bands I know go harder and have more teeth than Dolor, so it didn't seem appropriate to relate it to them. I think Dolor is more cerebral in a way, it’s less Kerouac and something more clinical. As for Pallbearer, Dolor captures the same dour quality but it’s also heavy, like we talked about earlier. It’s a bit more rounded.
Do you believe you’d be able to do a similar project in the same vein?
Oh gosh. I have been giving plenty of thought to the next Cicada the Burrower project and I want to use that as an opportunity to grieve over the death of my pet rabbit. I want to expand on the drones that were in Dolor and explore that sound a bit more fully. But I don't know. It does feel like I got that specific sound out of my system. Not to say it’s not something I won’t revisit down the line, who knows what the future holds. I may find myself in a bad space emotionally. And I know that everyone involved would be excited to contribute to a sequel.
Plus, I started listening to genres outside of metal. Nothing but jazz and trip-hop.
Were there any overarching themes in terms of what you brought to the project and what your bandmates brought?
When it comes to the rhythm, Arthur and Aaron had enthusiasm, they were so pumped to be a part of something they weren’t accustomed to, which I think plays a very nice role in the overall tone of the project. There is an excitement to it and certainly Trent and I bring it down significantly, but the rhythm keeps it engaging. I guess beyond personal struggles of depression and suicidal ideation I know that Trent brought a great deal of sorrow to the table. I remember discussing the lyrical process with him and what I was looking for in a vocalist and the original thing we had in mind was for him to take entries from his diary and air out that stuff. But, eight years passed, so he lost all that material. What it eventually turned into was a kind of doom-spiraling stream of consciousness with all of his bad thoughts coming to the table and being prattled out, reconstructed, and reinterpreted as the song progresses. Or being reorganized in the way that they feel like somebody’s malicious thought process.
It was about raw emotion and reducing the filter between the brain and output. Was that the feeling you wanted to pass off to listeners - that raw emotion- or was there one guiding struggle?
The answer is yes and no. There’s no specific triggering effect. I think what we wanted to express collectively was the personal struggle that comes with persistent clinical depression and how much of a struggle it can be to do the things that you want to do in life because of that. The way that we created the album and the way it ended up sounding is as close as we could get to a representation of that experience.
I think around the time that I got back into the project and wrote all my parts was the middle part of a four or five-year journey to get myself back on track. Exercising, medical intervention, the whole nine years. There was a tipping point for me, around Christmas Eve 2017, I wrote a song about it called “Psilocybin Death Spiral.” That negative experience led me to realize that if I didn’t change these fundamental parts of my life I was absolutely going to kill myself before I turned 30. So I’m happy to be here at 32. I’m seeing the joy in things now, and it takes a long time to get there but it’s fucking worth it when you’re there.
Let Rain Fall Eternal released June 1st via Blue Bedroom Records.