I have always been interested in science fiction, and I thought that approaching a project with that subject matter in mind would be inspiring and kind of freeing.
IIVII (pronounced ‘ivy’) is the dark ambient solo project of visual artist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Josh Graham. Josh was a founding member of Red Sparowes, Battle of Mice, and A Storm of Light, has been the visual genius behind Neurosis and more recently Soundgarden. He also worked closely with Mastodon, Jesu, Shrinebuilder, ISIS and The Dillinger Escape Plan. To say that he’s a bit of a legend in post-rock and post-metal would be an understatement.
Tim Porter caught up with him at his first show supporting his new album Invasion and had a chance to chat afterwards. The show was an amazing display of the Graham’s talent in both sound and visuals as the whole set was played live to a series of videos that were as mesmerizing as the music itself.
(((o))): What attracted you to ambient electronica?
Josh: I never thought for a second that I would end up playing ambient music. That said, with all the synth elements in A Storm of Light, I realized in some ways I was already making ambient music… and then piling a metal band on top it. On tour, while sound-checking the synth tracks, we used to joke about creating an ambient Storm record based on those sounds. With the band on an extended hiatus, the idea of exploring that side on its own was appealing. IIVII was not the first attempt, and was more or less the result of another project that fell apart. That project consisted of myself, Billy Graves from Storm, Eric Avery from Jane’s Addiction and Mike Gallagher from ISIS. Unfortunately, after a fruitless search for a female singer, it fizzled out. That led me to IIVII, and to the first record Colony, which was somehow written in a few weeks.
After the record was finished, I was lucky enough get in contact with the Belgian record label, Consouling Sounds. They released Colony, got me onto a few great EU festivals, and booked a string of successful European shows. Those experiences were invigorating, and made me think of IIVII as a larger entity, something that was worth putting long-term effort into. That led me to writing the new album, Invasion, and also to pursuing a career in writing music for film and television. The latter is obviously a lofty goal, but who knows. It feels like it could be possible. ‘Signals from Home’ was in the original trailer for the movie The Arrival, but was unfortunately cut before it was released. That was a little soul crushing; however, I just signed with a synch agent, who will work with music supervisors to place music into television shows. Fingers crossed.
(((o))): Could you talk about how IIVII compares to some of your earlier bands.
Josh: Storm and Red Sparowes were rooted in political themes, so I wanted a personal break to get away from the seriousness, especially with the current political climate, which is just depressing. I have always been interested in science fiction, and I thought that approaching a project with that subject matter in mind would be inspiring and kind of freeing.
(((o))): How is your most recent album Invasion different from Colony?
Josh: Colony actually started with noises, either NASA space samples or ambient sounds from movies, police sirens, etc., and I wrote on top of that. The percussion was written last.
Invasion was a much murkier process. Some of the music originated with the percussion, some was more rooted in a single emotion or mood. For instance, all three of the numbered tracks are based on the same drum beat. It’s a recurring theme in different voicing. And that’s part of the underlying narrative of the album, which tells a loose story about an alien Invasion. Colony has un underlying science fiction feel, but is less based on a coherent story. In Red Sparowes I did all the visuals and artwork, all of which have a tying narrative. I did the same thing in Storm but felt like the sequencing could have been better. On the more recent Storm and on IIVII I wanted the songs to stand on their own merit, but also have a tying narrative.
(((o))): You did all the videos for the album, and for Colony, which has one of my all-time favorite videos (‘Black Galaxy’). Could you talk to us a bit about that process?
Josh: It always feels like the real work begins after I am done writing an album, because after that comes the album art, visuals, and music videos, all of which are a ton of work.
The video for ‘Painless’ took me most of last summer. I had a lot of time to render it. It touches a bit on political stuff, but the story in it is essentially about nationalism and fighting over borders and about how people don’t see how small the earth really is. I feel like it’s something that is difficult to understand unless you are looking at earth from space. But yeah, the video is basically the idea of aliens looking down at humans fighting over imaginary lines, gods, and skin color, on a tiny rock in the middle of space. Confused, they just annihilate us all and live in harmony on their new planet.
‘Hidden inside’ was an evolution of having video footage. I wanted to create a linear story for the visuals but couldn’t spend as much time on it as I did for ‘Painless’. Fortunately, I was able to grab a lot of footage from YouTube and other places, and create something out of that. The concept here is more the surveillance version of the alien Invasion with a dual view of the aliens watching and the people watching.
(((o))): You considered Chris Cornell a friend, and the staff at Echoes and Dust are really big fans of Soundgarden. Any thoughts you could share about him?
Josh: So, I’ve have been the creative director for Soundgarden for the past seven years, which entailed creating all their merch, concert visuals, and album art during that time. I also worked directly with Chris on his last two solo album campaigns including Higher Truth, as well as designing Temple of the Dog reissue last year. He was an awesome guy and I loved working with him.
The first time I met Soundgarden in person was surreal. Telephantasm had just come out, and Julie (my wife) and I were going to NJ to see them play for the first time since they reunited. We had some sort of backstage passes, but not a high enough tier to actually get back stage before the show. With my touring history, I decided to just make a move…we headed backstage like we were meant to be there. Making our way through the stadium catacombs we finally hit the band’s main head of security – he was not enthused. I asked him to let Kim know I was there. Confused, he popped into the backroom for a few seconds, came out, and motioned us in.
I expected there to be a lot of people back there (the usual backstage clutter of people), but it was just the four band members, and now, Julie and me. What was a little awkward a first became very comfortable. We made general introductions, talked about the Telephantasm art and about Julie’s Washington roots. It was awesome. After about fifteen minutes they headed out to play. They sounded amazing. Halfway through the set, Chris announced the next song was ‘Black Rain’, and then said, “This one goes out to Josh Graham.” I looked at Julie. My mind was blown. Liz, a friend who was at the show texted me, “You just got a friggin shout out! Coolest thing ever!” It was.
IIVII is in the process of setting up European tour dates, so check your local listings in the coming months. Invasion is available through here.