The sludge scene is a vast and varied one, so it takes something pretty special to stand out. Take Low Flying Hawks, for example. Multi-instrumentalists and long-time collaborators EHA and AAL (a.k.a. Eddie and Alex, respectively) have delivered a debut of staggering depth and unflinching beauty in Kōfuku, turning granite-hewn doom and sludge into a life-shaping force, and they are aided in their mission by rock royalty Trevor Dunn, Dale Crover and Toshi Kasai. Got your attention? Good. Eddie and Alex kindly spoke to us to explain the aims of this impressive venture.
There’s not a huge amount of information out there about the band so why don’t you start off by saying a little about the project?
Eddie: We started playing about 25 years ago so we’ve been playing on and off for a long time. We’ve always been big fans of metal, even though we’ve made different projects under different guises. This time, we decided to do what our roots really are which is sludge, Black Sabbath mainly, and a little bit of shoegaze. All the time we’ve been playing we’ve tried to make really sombre, monolithic music. We see records as a whole, never as just a couple of songs, so we see this as a whole concept and we’ve been talking a long time about surrendering – surrendering to reality and to what’s happening, and accepting whatever comes as something good. We started from that point of view and then we started making the music. When we started the music around two years ago, we were thinking about producers and then we thought about Toshi Kasai. We were in contact with him, and then with Dale (Crover). Talking to him, we sent him the demos, he loved them and we decided to record last year. It’s been a really long, hard process and I think that’s reflected in the music, which we feel is something very obscure and intense. It’s a studio project – we’ve never even thought about playing live but we’re open to it in the future but this is mostly an art project.
Given the length of your partnership, how much does Low Flying Hawks stand apart from those earlier collaborations?
Eddie: It’s completely different. We started playing hard rock, heavy music then we moved into a more experimental edge and then we started to work separately. Alex started to work in a more electronic fashion and so did I. We were deeply into electronic stuff and Alex put out stuff independently, while I put out stuff with a small label, and then after a long time we decided we wanted to get back together and start playing heavy again. That was that. We went from heavy to jazzy experimental to heavy again, and we feel that our home is in heavy music. We’ve always liked the feeling of heaviness, but we mix it with artistic stuff. We’ve never thought of music as just music, but as an interpretation of what we’re feeling at the moment and what we sense in the world. This is our approach. Since we started this project, the approach was to make something really monolithic where you can get into a state of trance and get mixed into the heaviness, submerged into a sea of heaviness and sadness and nostalgia – all these feelings that each and every one who listens to the music will feel.
Amongst your influences you mention Richard D James but also Arvo Pärt, which is a fitting one. What about his compositions attracts you and how is that reflected within your own work?
Eddie: I think what we take from Arvo Pärt specifically is the minimalism, the repetition – repeating the same riff again until you get into a state of trance where everything becomes the same and you are absorbed by it. Life is a routine, we think. It’s the same every day and you have to find something good about it, or else you can get stuck. That’s what I think is beautiful about Arvo Pärt. Speaking of Spiegel Im Spiegel or Für Alina, which is my favourite composition of his and I think Alex’s as well, he repeats the same piece again and again with very slight variations. You have to pay a lot of attention so it requires concentration – it’s not just music to put on in the office, you really have to submerge yourself to really feel what’s happening.
Richard is my personal, and I think Alex’s, favourite musician of all time. We believe that he’s done with music is really transcendental and you’re going to see that in the future. Even now, you see his influence. Everything he does is so perfectly planned and well executed and the way he mixed all these emotions, this melancholia and nostalgia, with these harsh, metallic, abrasive beats, I don’t think anyone had done before so well and so perfectly well-crafted. If you link Arvo Pärt to Richard D James, I think there’s a perfectly straight line from one to the next. Especially in the Drukqs album, where he started to link the piano parts with the harsh beats and the funny stuff, and the hidden sadness behind it.
Do you take a similarly structured approach with your own composition or is there more room for improvisation with you?
Eddie: Not at all, there’s a lot of room for improvisation. We basically write the main riffs and the base of the songs, and then in the studio we improvise everything. We love improvisation, and we think that music without improvisation is just stock. We think improvisation gives music freeness and a human touch.
Alex: … and the sentimentalism that we wanted to project on the whole album.
Eddie: We think that’s what’s beautiful about jazz. If you take Coltrane or Miles Davis or Albert Ayler, what’s beautiful is that they’re expressing what they’re feeling exactly in the moment they’re recording. It’s not something they planned for ages. You plan and then you have to let go, and then something really spiritual flows through you and you can’t explain what it is, and that’s what you hear on the record.
I was curious as to your use of a Japanese term, kōfuku, to express the idea of surrender that you mentioned earlier.
Eddie: From the beginning, everything we wrote was what we were going through, so we thought that the Japanese word kōfuku expressed something that there is no other language that can express that in that exact word. No other language expresses that surrendering to happiness because in English, surrender means that you lost something and kōfuku is about surrendering to something good, which is the way it’s planned. That surrendering and letting go encompasses the whole album. It’s like understanding that there’s darkness and there is light and both of them are good, and that every human being is going to have both sides. It’s okay to have both sides. You need both of them to argue and begin a conversation within you.
Alex: It’s like an adaptation to what’s happening in the moment. It’s not surrendering as in giving up, it’s more surrendering to what’s happening in the moment and adapting to what’s happening; flowing with it.
“We’ve never thought of music as just music, but as an interpretation of what we’re feeling at the moment and what we sense in the world. This is our approach.”
It feels like that is reflected within the artwork, with this austere monotone exterior and huge bursts of colour on the inside. Was that the intent?
Eddie: It’s totally related. When we started working with Seher One, the Mexican artist, we explained all these feelings to him and he introduced them into the artwork. The idea was to have this monolithic cover that you see and open up, just like every human being. Human beings are monolithic on the outside, most of the time, and colourful on the inside, even if it’s not noticeable when you first see them. Most people want to project the darkness to protect themselves from being noticed with light and that’s exactly the explanation of the record cover. At first, it’s really dark and then you open it and there’s a burst of colour, and the music is the same. It’s very dark and moody and then there’re bursts of light and hope all over it, and expectations for the future which you have to surrender to for them to happen.
How exactly did the involvement with Dale and Trevor Dunn come about and did they take any involvement with the writing of the album?
Eddie: What Dale and Trevor recorded was them 100%. We sent them some demos of the compositions and from there it was them putting their magic on the record. It was a big jam but it wasn’t planned at all. We just felt that Dale could do the job properly because we really admire him as a drummer and Trevor as a bass player, though Trevor only played on three songs. The thing with Dale and Trevor was that we just surrendered to their playing and we melted into them and they melted into us. It was a natural process.
How do you feel Trevor’s contributions fit on the album? They seem to space the longer tracks out and almost act as segues from one to the next.
Eddie: Absolutely. We wanted those pieces to connect the album because we felt that we needed these dark passages of jazzy moody stuff, really influenced by Bohren & der Club of Gore. Basically, we wanted to connect songs with them. We wanted to give the album a feel or meaning with those passages. We’re starting to record the next in October and looking to do something very similar and maybe we’re going to integrate some kind of Arvo Pärt composition, we’re looking into that but just as passages so the whole album flows through them.
On a more general note, Mexico has always seemed to have a very strong black and death metal scene but how is it for doom?
Eddie: We don’t know much about the Mexican doom scene because there are very scattered projects but we don’t even know them. The black and death metal scene in Mexico is very strong and it was very strong in the 90s with bands like Cenotaph but then it started to fade a little bit. I think there’s a big doom scene in Mexico in terms of British doom. There are not a lot of bands who play that type of music but there’s a lot of love for bands like My Dying Bride and Paradise lost, who are a big influence for us as well. We were into both in the early days and also Anathema – the big three British doom bands. We really like the goth part of them and the whole melancholic, nostalgic part of them, as opposed to the American stoner part which we also love, but we were more influenced by the British. We were really influenced by Black Sabbath – who isn’t? I don’t think there a single band in the history of heavy metal who isn’t.
The gothic aspect of My Dying Bride can really be felt on this album, especially in those rich vocals. Did it take much tinkering to match them so keenly with what you were going for musically?
Eddie: Vocals were completely effortless. It was just flowing through me and Alex. The vocals were there practically from the beginning. We didn’t even know what we were really going to sing and it was just an improvisation done in one take. The lyrics were written before but we like that raw take on the vocals because it was pure improvisation on what we had written before. There wasn’t much thinking with them as we knew exactly what we wanted to achieve and we just let ourselves go. It was just about letting ourselves feel the music. There is a big My Dying Bride influence there. We love what they’ve done since the beginning, since As The Flower Withers.
There’s a very curious use of samples at points on the album. Am I right in thinking there’s a message about addiction in there?
Eddie: Yeah, the samples are taken from old American governmental films and particularly samples with opinions on drug use. We think that you don’t need drugs. They can be really nice but you really don’t need them. We think your brain and your mind has all the drugs that you need within, so you just have to learn how to use your mind, as William Burroughs said. Every drug is within you, you just have to learn how to find the feeling and take it from there. Your mind is much more powerful than any drug you can take. That was a really interesting part, the samples, because what we wanted to say is that in the end you have to surrender to everything and you don’t need the drugs. That’s God’s gift – creativity and imagination. Those are the real drugs for us.
Does that tie in with White Temple, which is one of the tracks which uses those samples?
Eddie: White Temple is the middle of the record. It’s like when you get from darkness into light, and White Temple is the middle, where you know where you need to go. This White Temple opens the doors of perhaps perception and you begin to understand then that light and darkness collide, and you have to know how to use each one of them. Then, everything takes you to destruction, where you destroy yourself and you are born again understanding things a lot better. You have to destroy to create. Everything begins with the apocalypse – all this destruction within, which you don’t know how to handle. You get to the White Temple and you see these ruins in front of you.
Alex: And then Kokkai comes, and kokkai in Japanese means black sea. You’re at the White Temple and you realise everything and start to comprehend what’s really happening, you go to the black sea and you accept it. You accept the difference between black and white and then the destruction is complete and then you are born again. That’s what we mean by born again – you are really a new person and you are starting again. We’re not with Megadeth at all! It’s nothing to do with Christianity, it’s more to do with a renaissance inside you. That you have to destroy in order to start again, and that’s everyday life. You wake up, you go out and then you come back, and then it’s a new day. Every day is a destruction and a beginning.