Interview: Ryan Daniel (ION)
Last December, just a few days before Christmas, I saw a classic Bay Area metal show. An all-local bill. A divey bar with cheap beer on tap. A friendly vibe where one could nerd out about the merits of each Ludicra album with the members of the bands playing that night. I went out that night to catch Cormorant and Wild Hunt, but instead found myself blown away by a trio of unassuming youngsters playing some of the fiercest, technically precise and simply compelling black metal I had seen in a good while. That band was ION.
After witnessing their dead-tight mix of Krallice-esque progressive black metal and ambient interludes reminiscent of Tribes of Neurot, I had to buy their self-titled album, which made a few ripples on the internet late last year. It was probably the best $5 I spent in 2014. Some time after that show, I had the opportunity to chat with guitarist and vocalist Ryan Daniel. It’s my distinct pleasure to present the first published interview with the band ION, an act which I believe represents the future of forward-thinking Bay Area heavy metal.
Tell me about the origins of ION. You guys seem to have little if any connection many of the bands that people associate with the Bay Area’s metal scene.
Well, we’ve been together for about three years now. We started with me and a guitar player, Larbi Houmam. He and I started writing songs and after a while, we brought his brother onboard to play drums and he’s with us currently. His name’s Adam. Larbi ended up quitting, that was about after a year. We decided to gut all the material we had and start over, and that stuff ended up being the beginning and the end of our album. We added Dan Perdomo on bass probably at the end of 2013, that’s when we started playing more shows and started actually trying to get ourselves out there. It’s led up to this point now. At the moment we’re just trying to write more music and play more during the summer.
How long have you been playing shows?
I’ve been playing in bands since I was about 15 or 16. Things didn’t really start working out until 2013, that’s when ION really started trying to make a name for ourselves. We started playing around the Oakland and San Francisco areas and we did a mini-tour to the Northwest last summer. We went through Oregon, hit Seattle and Boise, Salt Lake City and then we came back west through Sacramento. In November we did a few dates in Southern California and then one in Arizona. We’re definitely trying to make an effort to move around.
The reason I’m asking these questions is because I tried doing some research beforehand on you all and found absolutely nothing. It’s almost like you guys appeared out of thin air.
Yeah, there’s a level of mystery that we like to keep I suppose. [Laughs]
Let’s talk about the album for a bit. You went to Jack Shirley at Atomic Garden. We both know that he engineered a certain band’s very huge album. Did that influence your decision to work with him?
Going back to some of the first bands I played in, I had actually worked with him before and recorded with him in the past. I just really enjoyed his ethics and the way he carries himself and top of that, he knows his shit. He knows what he’s doing and he has suggestions and input when they’re needed. He’s also done bands that I personally enjoy, like Grayceon and a band called Viral, which our bassist Dan plays in as well. There’s a local punk band called Punch that I really like, they recorded with Jack as well. I’m just a fan of his material. I feel like he manages to get a really natural sound.
A couple songs on the record are bookended with sections that resemble ambient music, I think even the last half of “Embers” is entirely in that vein. I heard it as a mashing of Times of Grace-era Neurosis and early ‘90s black metal or something.
I don’t know if there was a set in stone mentality of, “We’re going to try and sound like something.” It just kind of… It’s weird how it works out. Our drummer is very into straight death metal and lots of black metal, whereas I never really grew up on Darkthrone and Burzum and all that stuff. By this point I know that stuff and I dig it, but I’ve always been more into the modern stuff. Krallice, Wolves in the Throne Room, more obscure things that I find on Bandcamp in the wee hours of night. [Laughs] I’m a huge Pink Floyd, Neurosis, Isis, Tool fan, all that that shit. When we got together and started playing, it just ended up happening the way it did.
Going back to the recording aspect of it, Jack at Atomic Garden actually didn’t record a lot of the album. We took it to him to mix it and master it. I have a little M-Audio interface, some microphones and some stuff that I was fortunate enough to borrow from friends. We were able to get it done in our rehearsal space and have it sound good enough to where we were okay with releasing it. We were trying to be as economical as possible really. [Laughs] There’s only so much that retail jobs will allow you to spend, you know?
The DIY approach to music is something that Bay Area bands get right more often than not it seems.
It’s definitely a pain in the ass. I realized that I could never do engineering for a living for sure. [Laughs] I remember I bought all that equipment and I kind of learned how to use it, but once you actually start trying to like do something serious… It’s like okay, there’s a lot more to this than you could ever possibly imagine. [Laughs]
When I saw ION, you guys played the album from start to finish.
Yeah, we try to play it from start to finish but depending on time constraints, we’ll drop a song. That’s been working for us, and we’ve been sticking with that formula. Actually, next month we’re going to start unveiling some new stuff. We have like one show booked, but then in the summer we’re going to be playing a bit more and show off some more new material.
Given that you guys recorded the album yourselves, is that a decision you’re happy with? Would you have done anything differently?
As far as the actual recording, there’s portions you always wish you could go back and change. That’s going to happen no matter what you do. It was a little rushed, we learned not to make deadlines for ourselves ever again. Ultimately, it was good enough to the point where we felt comfortable releasing it. Our friend Austin Schermerhorn took photos for us for the cover and it turned out totally better than anything we could have even expected. We’re beyond ecstatic about the artwork he did. Ultimately, it was quite a pleasure to put out that record.
You guys put it out yourselves. No label, distro, nothing.
Oh yeah. We didn’t even try. [Laughs] We didn’t send shit out or fish it around. We figured, “Screw it, let’s do it ourselves.” We printed 500 CDs and at this point we’re trying to figure out if we do vinyl now or maybe save it for a later date. It’s definitely being talked about.
Would you ever consider hooking up with a label for the sake of wider distribution?
That stuff is always in the conversation. It goes from “How much would it cost us?” to “How about this label or that label? They released such and such, what if we just send them what we’re doing.” We haven’t done much of that yet, we’ve sent one CD out and we haven’t emailed a lot of people. The main issue is, do we want to invest time and money re-releasing old stuff as opposed to putting it towards what we’re working on now, which we want to have out within hopefully the next year. That’s really what the big issue is. At some point or another, we definitely want to start fishing around.
So regarding the next album, you think you might return to Jack?
For the next album, we’re leaning towards going back to Jack just for the familiarity of it. We know what kind of quality we’ll be able to get. We are talking about doing the drums in his studio next time, that was one thing that we were questionable about. I think he’s the guy for sure.
The first album has a weirdly intense energy going on, like a very confident statement of purpose. I have a tough time imagining what the follow-up will sound like. Can you provide any insight?
You can expect to hear a lot of the similarity in the weirdness of the songs, the sort of psychedelic stuff and the spaciness. From what I’ve gathered from playing and writing this new stuff, it’s definitely a step forward. It sounds a bit more focused, there’s a lot of stuff going on between post-metal sounds, black metal sounds, psychedelic stuff, maybe proggy stuff, whatever it may be. A lot of that stuff is more incorporated into the actual composition as opposed to spread out as much as it is in the first album. Get them into the songs themselves instead of as segues. It’s a little bit more focused.