Posted by: Necci – May 03, 2012
Every September in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in celebration of the Fiestas De Santa Fe, a large effigy called Zozobra or Old Man Gloom is burned, a fifty-foot tall conflagration that reflects the destruction of anxiety and despair. This same sort of abrupt cathartic release can be seen in the work of the band Old Man Gloom, which was started in 1999 in New Mexico by Aaron Turner of Isis and Santos Montano as a means to explore more spontaneous, unconstrained songwriting approaches, often characterized by abrupt shifts between pounding, sludgy metal and ethereal electronic ambience. Over the years, the band expanded its lineup, bringing into its fold an impressive roster that features Nate Newton of Converge and Doomriders, Caleb Scofield of Cave In, Jay Randall of Agoraphobic Nosebleed, and Luke Scarola from House Of Low Culture. Their last release, 2004's Christmas, preceded an eight-year silence from the band, which was recently broken to announce a brief East Coast tour. I had a chance to get in a few questions with Aaron Turner regarding Old Man Gloom's whereabouts.
First of all, what prompted the return, eight years after the last album?
AT: We have been busy re-learning all of the songs we wrote from all of our albums. It takes quite some time, as they're very complicated compositions and require close study and rigorous practice if they are to be performed correctly. Also, our side projects (Converge, ISIS, Cave In, etc) have taken up a disproportionate amount of our time, but we've quit all that nonsense in order to focus all of our energy on Old Man Gloom.
Are there any new recordings on the way?
AT: NO. [The band has since announced that they are, in fact, releasing a new album entitled NO.]
In an older interview, you had said that Old Man Gloom started out as an attempt to pursue immediacy in the songwriting process. As different elements have factored into the band's existence – from members relocating to different influences being incorporated – is the emphasis on spontaneity still a primary factor with the material the band writes?
AT: Yes. We're driven by an intense need to create in an uninhibited fashion, not to be held down by the constraints of controlled compositional techniques, songwriting, or perfect performances. We're interested in primal expression, an unfiltered connection between our instruments and the churning chaos of our internal worlds – the more submerged levels of consciousness that are often obscured by more rational thought processes. We may soon dispense with using instruments altogether and resort to flinging ourselves upon the audience, setting fire to the stage, and using wood, stone and un-amplified voice as our primary means of creative expression. We have only to follow where the spirit leads.
How do you feel about the music that you made as an attempt to break out of songwriting conventions being used by others (the whole “post-metal” thing) as a template for a new sort of standardized aesthetic?
AT: What is post-metal? Did metal end at some point? We don't recognize genre – we are beholden only to our own creative whims, desire only to use of sound as a tool for the manipulation of consciousness. If we can use our music to move ourselves and listeners beyond the confines of linear time and the widely accepted notion of three dimensional space, we will consider our efforts successful. Anything less is utter failure.
Most of your albums feature some pretty abrupt transitions between aggressive, heavy songs and textural ambient interludes, while Seminar III seemed to integrate the two contrasting sides more cohesively. What motivated that albums emphasis on more expansive songwriting and integrated textural elements?
AT: There is no differentiation for us – all is Gloom, and all serves the same purpose: to dismantle the socially constructed fabrications of who we are and what our existence means, in the larger interest of achieving true sight and experience of being. Our technique may vary from time to time, but every sound is generated with the same express purpose as outlined above.
Your song “Something For The Mrs.” features elements of Hemingway's “Second Poem To Mary,” a poem permeated with an almost apocalyptic bleakness that ruminates on the dehumanizing effects of war and the institutional forces that drive mankind towards such devastation. Was this something that tied into an overarching theme on the album?
AT: Yes. The album generally addressed mankind's (and I use that gender designated term purposely), dubious gifts to the world: destruction, pollution, violence, rape, death, misery, corruption, devaluation of life – both human and other, the supposed advancements made with technology (most of which is developed in the interest of creating a more "effective" military), etc. One of the only tangible returns the families of soldiers have ever received from sending off their loved ones to war is their corporeal remains shipped back to them in a box. If there's any more pointless waste of life than war, I can't think of what it is. Behind just about every humanitarian or ideological justification ever put forth as a reason for war – liberation, the dismantlement of tyranny, religious convictions, defense of the defenseless, etc – swims the true motivations for this large scale bloodshed: the desire for domination of others, the want of resources held in enemy territory, the unconscious drive to project one's hatred of parents and/or self onto a perceived enemy, or the simple urge to kill and destroy, since the actual creation of life is impossible for those who choose this path of anti-life.
Despite the disparate imagery between albums, are there any thematic elements present that tie together your larger body of work?
AT: To excel at the art of life. To use the time we have to really experience being alive. To experience that feeling in connection to each other through making music together, and by making music for others to enjoy. Basically, we just want to have fun with sound, and hopefully create meaningful experiences in the process.
You took the band's name from the Zozobra figure that's burned in effigy in Santa Fe each year. Does the mythos behind that practice inform what Old Man Gloom creates?
AT: Death should be a welcomed aspect of life. The burning of Zozobra is some ways could be recognized as an acceptance of this idea – a recognition of the dark side of self, of human kind, and a desire to embrace the ending of things and the beginning of new things that come from this. Santos and I experienced the ritual of Zozobra starting at a very early age – we were awestruck by this magnificent and terrifying event. Our minds were charged with fear and wonder and excitement – and these are the same things we strive for in making music. Though we may have not had the cognitive tools to put our experience of Zozobra into articulate words, we knew something big was taking place. I think we probably recognized that this celebration harkened back to pre-Christian traditions that affected us on an archetypal level – something that went deeper than most of the "normal" events of daily life. So, the answer to that question is: Yes – that spirit is very much incorporated into what we do.
Caleb and Santos are also in the band Zozobra. Apart from the shared members, do the two bands overlap in terms of an aesthetic or a creative approach?
AT: I think that can be determined by examining the evidence at hand by the public. The buying of all Old Man Gloom/Zozobra products related to this line of questioning is encouraged in order to come to a well informed conclusion about this matter.
There's a pretty noticeable disparity between Old Man Gloom and the members' other projects. How does it fit in the spectrum of everybody's bands?
AT: Only Gloom exists in the moment its music is played, heard, or felt. In these moments our individuals selves dissipate, our identities absorbed into the singular, unified and glowing hive mind, both transmitting and receiving the light of all that is and all that might be. Everything beyond this realm is largely irrelevant.
Is there anything you hope to achieve with the resurrected Old Man Gloom?
AT: Gloom never died and therefore cannot be resurrected, for it is eternal. We wish only to know joy and to share it with the world.
By Graham Scala