Interview: A Storm Of Light
Anthroscene is really about the continual weird collapse of our social structures and the American opiate addiction, the rise of the alt right and Trump's bullshit. It's fuelled by too much news.
After a hiatus of five years, A Storm Of Light return with their long awaited new album Anthroscene. Before the first night of their European tour in Bristol with Mono and Jo Quail, we caught up with main man Josh Graham to talk about the tour and playing the new material for the first time, all about the new album and new lineup for the band, the inspiration for his work as a visual artist, touring with Sleep, the struggles of being a band in New York City, the influence of Nick Cave and others on Anthroscene and working with hip hop megastar Jay-Z on tour visuals.
E&D: This is the first night of the tour, what can we expect from the A Storm Of Light live show tonight and for the rest of the tour?
Josh: Hopefully we can play a full set! It’s the first time we’ve played these songs, we played the songs from the new album.
E&D: The first time you’ve played the new songs ever?
Josh: Yeah, we practiced them once last night! Hopefully, it should be ok. It’s been switching over a lot of the keyboard stuff, how it’s run differently now. It’s a little nerve wracking.
E&D: Will you be playing a lot from your new album Anthroscene?
Josh: Yeah, we’re playing eight technical songs. It’s one from As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade, and one from Nations To Flames and all the rest are from Anthroscene.
E&D: Is the visual aspect of your live shows still as important for you?
Josh: Oh yeah.
E&D: And are there brand new visuals for tonight and the rest of the tour?
Josh: Yeah, this club’s a little weird for it as all the poles are in the way, it is what it is though.
E&D: You’ve done visuals for Neurosis and Soundgarden as well as your own band and many others. Where do you get the inspiration for your stunning visuals?
Josh: I always get them from the music and a lot, from the lyrics. You have to try and tie it in.
E&D: It’s easier with your own music?
Josh: Yeah, working on my own projects it’s like they all work together on the music and I’ll come up with the visual ideas.
E&D: Do you come up with the visual ideas first or does it depend on the song?
Josh: Sometimes it’s both, sometimes it goes back and forth. I’ll come up with visual ideas and then I’ll change lyrics based on the visual ideas so it’s kinda fun.
E&D: Going back to tonight, if you’re playing a song from A Nation In Flames, will that be the same visuals you’ve used before or will there be new visuals for this touring campaign?
Josh: It’s the same base content, but I’ve re-edited everything and made it fit in within the context of this show because you always want every tour to look different, or maybe not every tour, but every album campaign to look different, but people want to hear old songs so it’s challenging to make it all tie in.
E&D: You’re touring with Mono. Were you a fan of the band before this tour?
Josh: Yeah, they’re awesome. We actually played with them once in Greece, maybe eight years ago or something.
E&D:.What about Jo Quail, who’s opening the shows on this tour. Are you familiar with her music?
Josh: I wasn’t before, but she’s awesome. Really, really cool.
E&D: So you’ll be checking out the other acts each night?
Josh: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it throughout the tour.
E&D: Who have A Storm Of Light enjoyed touring with the most in the past and who would you love to tour with in the future?
Josh: We’ve done a lot of cool tours like Converge, that was awesome and Sleep.
E&D: Cool, I saw you with Sleep in Leeds a few years back.
Josh: Yeah, that was the show where Matt came up playing guitar on the rising pillar!
Josh: That was so awesome! He found that during soundcheck! As far as wanting to tour with bands, Killing Joke would probably be my first choice or Nine Inch Nails, but that’s probably way out of our realm haha.
E&D: The first time I saw A Storm Of Light live was with Corrosion Of Conformity and Torche in New York in 2012 and I was blown away and found it a very cathartic experience. Do you feel like that too and want to bring out a similar reaction in your audience?
Josh: Awesome, yeah, I mean, I wrote because I definitely need to channel my angst, haha, and stuff like that through it! With this stuff there’s a touch of humour in the newer stuff. It’s dark, but I’d like the audience to feel something and to take something away from it, whatever they are want really. I don’t want to be too heavy handed with it. Some of our earlier visuals, which would have been before you saw us with Corrosion Of Conformity, we kept reading these reviews that said oh they’re super pretentious and we didn’t really understand, but the visuals were definitely closer to what I was doing with Red Sparowes. More like heartstrings and people in weird circumstances and impending doom and now it’s more kind of nihilistic and a little more entertaining I guess!
E&D: Does your Brooklyn base and indeed New York as a whole fuel influence the music of A Storm Of Light?
Josh: Well, none of us are there anymore, but as a birthplace of the band, yeah. We were actually just talking about it yesterday. How difficult it is to be a band in New York because if the cost of rental rooms are outrageous and no one has cars. We had a van, but it was in the other side of Brooklyn so you’re carrying guitars and amps on the subway going up and down stairs and walking for six blocks. I grew up in Arizona and being in a band there is easy, you get a space and you drive your car to it. I actually had a much larger appreciation for bands I grew up listening to who were from New York like Swans and Unsane.
E&D: They had to struggle.
Josh: Yeah they definitely had to struggle, they had these weird elements that you never really thought would come into play and it’s cool, but now, were all removed. I live in the Hudson Valley, a couple of hours north of New York. Dominic lives in Rhode Island, Dan lives in Phoenix and the drummer we’re actually using on this tour is from Ghent in Belgium, so it’s quite spread out!
E&D: A lot has changed for A Storm Of Light since your last album A Nation In Flames came out five years ago in terms of the line-up of the band. Can you tell us what has happened with that and what the new members bring to the bands sound?
Josh: Dan, our new guitar player, we were in bands in high school. We hadn’t played together since, but we’d always kept in touch. I asked him if he wanted to do it and he started a couple of the songs. Initially, I had started every single song with the initial ideas so it was nice to get some outside input and I think it really improved the record too. Billy, our previous drummer, had a kid and got married and he just didn’t want to do touring anymore, which I understand. We still love him as a brother, but we got Chris Common to play drums on it and he’s renowned as an engineer, he recorded Chelsea Wolfe’s last album, he’s just a killer drummer, in These Arms Are Snakes for example, and it was cool to work with him and we did it all remotely. He wrote and recorded the drums in his own studio in El Paso over the course of a week.
E&D: How did the rest of the recording of the new album go?
Josh: It was good. I started writing last November and it came out October, but it’s weird, you work on it for a couple of weeks and then try to schedule the recording time, who’s going to mix it and all that stuff.
E&D: Were you working it around all your work as a visual artist?
Josh: I’m working on the visual stuff more than I’m working on A Storm Of Light.
E&D: On the visual front, you worked with Jay Z, which is crazy, how did that come about?
Josh: Jay Z’s creative director Willo Perron, he hires a bunch of different people and one guy that worked with him for a long time knew my stuff from Neurosis and got in touch with me. First of all, he asked if I wanted to do something with Coldplay and I was like no! In hindsight, I probably should have, but then he said do you want to do something for Drake and I’m like woah that’s kinda crazy so I did something for that. A couple of tours for Drake and a couple of tours for Jay Z. Those processes are complete insanity, for those tours we flew to Manchester and made the visuals in the arena, backstage and ask if they work and they yay/nay stuff. There’s so much other stuff, they have cameras and lights so they don’t necessarily need visuals for every song so they say yeah I like that or no I’m not into that. It’s crazy.
E&D: A whole different world?
Josh: Yeah, it’s really cool though, just the physical constructs of the screens are so impressive and it’s really fun to make content for something so massive.
E&D: Going back to Anthroscene, the album is still as heavy as A Nation Of Flames, but has more diversity in its sound. Was that something you wanted to get across in particular with this album?
Josh: It had been so long since the last record, I think none of us knew where to go after A Nations To Flames, it was like do we just get rid of the keyboards and go full thrash metal or something, but we all agreed that didn’t seem right! I started doing a lot more soundtrack stuff with my other project IIVII and when it came to writing this album, I was a little less afraid of using keys in central parts of the songs. I think it made it better and it certainly adds more diversity to the sound.
E&D: The album is coming out this Friday, will you be doing anything special to celebrate the albums release? I know you’ve obviously got a show that night.
Josh: Yeah, we’re playing. Kerrang! did the full album stream so hopefully people get a chance to hear it. I know it’s kind of a bummer when you go to a show and you don’t know any of the songs.
E&D: Is the albums title a homage to the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds song ‘Anthrocene’?
Josh: Yeah, definitely. Nick Cave is one of my biggest influences and I had to have a dummy title just for us to listen to on URL while we were writing, but then I just realized that if I swapped the spelling it makes total sense and I bet Nick Cave wished he’d done it that way! It’s perfect!
E&D: Is Nick Cave a big influence on your writing style?
Josh: I don’t know, I feel like he rubs off mainly on this record. I really like paying attention to his lyrics not particularly what he’s writing, but it’s the dark and brooding nature. It’s serious at points, but it’s also a bit ridiculous, but with that dark humour as well. I took a little bit of that stuff and it’s funny because musically, I don’t think that there’s really much of anything in common, but it’s weird because a lot of my favourite bands aren’t heavy.
E&D: Are there any other musical influences in this record?
Josh: I took the title of ‘Slow Motion Apocalypse’ from a Grotus album. They’re an awesome early/mid 90s band.
E&D: Yeah, I love the Mass album and they’re a very underrated band definitely.
Josh: Yeah, I love that band and I feel that people didn’t probably know anything about them so it’s a cool homage to them.
E&D: What are the songs about on Anthroscene and do they follow an underlying theme throughout the album?
Josh: I mean, it’s really about the continual weird collapse of our social structures and the American opiate addiction, the rise of the alt right and Trump’s bullshit. It’s fuelled by too much news.
E&D: If you see something on the news that you could write about, do you take that as an inspiration for a song?
Josh: Yeah, yeah. Too much news and watching too much news. Too much chaos and politics in general, all the right wing stuff that’s continuing to spread and now it’s all over the country. Five years ago it seemed like everything was kinda cool but now?!
E&D: Do you always try to approach the sound of your albums with a view of how it will sound live?
Josh: Not really. There’s some guitar parts that are a little bit different, but I’ve been in bands where we’ve wrote it all live. Red Sparowes, we wrote it in the room and recorded it all live with a couple of overdubs. In this band, it’s entirely different. It’s completely done remote with exchanging files and e-mails and then we start figuring out the guitar parts on the record, how do we split them up live or take some of them out or whatever.
E&D: What’s next for A Storm Of Light after this tour? More touring?
Josh: Well we’ll see what gets offered, hopefully we can do some festivals in the summer. It’d be cool to come back and play in London and Paris. This tour is more of a small cities tour, no capitals so it’s kinda interesting.
E&D: Who have been your biggest influence as both a musician and a visual artist?
Josh: Music wise, it’s impossible for me to narrow down! There’s so much stuff. I grew up listening to Joy Division and even Black Flag. Nick Cave and the Birthday Party. PJ Harvey, Melvins. Ministry probably. As for the visual side, Nam June Paik, he does a lot of cool stuff. James Turrell. Contemporary artists, Jenny Holzer is awesome. I think the creative directors for Nine Inch Nails are really good, they switched over to a new guy, they’ve always been really solid. They’re an inspiration in how to keep everything cohesive throughout the entire campaign.
E&D: What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?
Josh: Working with Soundgarden was awesome, working with Chris and doing Jay-Z’s stuff was totally insane! Musically, playing shows in crazy places like Bogota in Columbia. We played in Minsk in Belarus and Kiev in the Ukraine and Moscow, yeah it’s cool to be able to do that.