Upon a recent adventure with my false hopes of an attempt to get past the Canadian border, I came across a band of hardcore metalheads that go by the name of Sky Burial. These fine gentlemen had been on tour already for about a week since they left their hometown of Nashville, TN, and were playing in Montreal just a day after I had met them. Throughout my conversation with them, they had informed me that coincidentally they were playing a last-minute gig at The Meatlocker, in Montclair, NJ, the following week, and that I could possibly have the pleasure of playing with them with my own band on the bill.
While taking our equipment off the stage at The Meatlocker show, Sky Burial was loading theirs on, as the audience was about to witness something completely unexpected. As the room began to fill with the light and ambient sounds of the two guitarists, Beau and Jesse, along with bassist Gavin, I began to shut my eyes and prepare for the treat of hearing some talented musicians from another state.
Slowly but surely the music began to grow louder and deeper, as Sky Burial’s drummer, Ivan, began to slam his way into a beat that was paced accordingly. Then, out of nowhere, all of the instruments came crashing together in unison, leaving me with images of unidentifiable emotions ranging from frustration to joy. The musical chemistry made me want to drop to my knees and begin to tear. Luckily, I was able to ask these artists a few questions with regards to the music they write and what they all are about after the show. The conversation is below.
What is a Sky Burial, and why did you choose that as your name?
Ivan: A sky burial is essentially a ritualistic funeral, as the name suggests, and it is taken from a Tibetan tradition of dissecting the body and feeding it to vultures. The act is supposed to be a symbol of the last good that you can do for the world by giving your body to other living creatures. It basically says that if your life is over, then there's no sense in selfishly burying your body, or trying to preserve it, so you might as well give it to the world itself and do a greater good by feeding it to another living creature, such as a vulture. It has a lot of importance to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. None of us are religious in any sort of way but a lot of the values that come out in the Tibetan traditions influence us in some way. It kind of just struck a chord and seemed like the right thing.
Beau: We try to present that in our music when we write. Rather than being completely negative, we try to strive for hope and bettering whatever situation anybody's in, not just in the lyrics but also in the chords and in the progression. We've put a lot of emotion into our music before any lyrics.
How long have you guys been playing together?
Beau: Three and a half years roughly. Almost exactly three and a half years.
How long does it usually take you to write, record, and produce an album?
Beau: The first record didn't take that long because it was recorded by us in a basement in like, six months. If I'm not mistaken, that was the week of a national flood which made it pretty intense. With the other records we took a different approach, because I don't think any of us had ever actually been in a real recording studio. We decided to take our time, step back, write the album the way that we really wanted to write it, and record it in a studio where we can get good sound and all the stuff like that. It took us a year and a half because of financial situations. If it wasn't for bands on Replenish Records, that wouldn't have happened.
How do you manage to keep your heads and your hopes up as a touring band?
Beau: It's a full-time job to support everything we do. We don't really make any money other than gas money to get from show to show. As far as the scene goes, we still have a sort of punk rock aesthetic. That's kind of what we are used to.
Jesse: The Nashville scene has helped us a lot. We've known all of those guys for a good long time. They always support us and are at all of our shows. Pretty much the support wherever we go is what keeps us going.
Ivan: We wouldn't be playing music if it wasn't for the DIY scene across the country. Without that, it would be a completely different environment. That's the thing that keeps most bands that we know alive, it's the type of tightly knit network between friends and bands that have similar ideas.
Beau: If it wasn't for that crust and hardcore scene we would be lost because that is where we all come from. We still have that black flag—the germs influence that we sort of jumped into when were 15.
During the writing process, are you more focused on the ambient sounds or the powerful, heavy side?
Jesse: It really has depended on how we started, and what the feel of our initial writing is. After that point we start to really broaden the scope a bit. We start with very fine lines. After we get that initial feeling, the rest of the album or song comes and flows outward.
Beau: It’s kind of like a flower blooming, that's the way we look at it. The new record took us about a year and a half to write that. One day you feel a certain way, and the next you feel a different way. That record has a lot of different emotions because it took so long to write. We were at a different spot in the beginning than we were at the end of the album. The album is us growing as individuals and as musicians.
Ivan: I think that one important thing is that like Beau said, we all come from a different scene. We all come from the punk rock DIY scene, and we all grew up playing in hardcore, heavy, and loud bands. I think it's a feeling we all have that playing heavy, loud, fast music just kind of expresses a certain feeling, but it needs something to be said that hardcore can't account for. There's certain emotions that cannot be expressed through that kind of music and I feel like, with what we are doing now, it's coming from the same place, but touching on aspects of our basic feeling that are impossible for us to express with the different kinds of music that we had played before. It's kind of branching out into a whole new realm of expression.
Beau: The angst is still there, it’s just that we took it into a different direction and looked at it differently. Instead of saying, “I hate this, and I hate that,” it’s, “How do we make things better in our lives?”
Jesse: I agree with what they both said. We try to look at the whole range of human emotions instead of just that negative side.
Your new record came out on May 22. What is it called and where will it be released?
Ivan: The new record is called Where Four Rivers Flow. Replenish Records will be releasing it in the U.S. as of now, but in the future, there are plans of Replenish Records distributing it through Europe just so it can be available.
After finishing up our discussion on what they play and where they came from, we all walked from where my car was parked back to the venue so that the boys could load up their gear and make the trip to New Brunswick, NJ, for their next gig. In between the laughter and comparisons of the Southern states’ waffle houses with the Northern states’ diners, I kept thinking in the back of my mind that these guys had seriously left an impression on me. They demonstrated—both in their performance and in the answers to my questions—how human emotion and its display in music are continuing to evolve in ways that some of us may be unaware of. Bands like Sky Burial show the separation of the musicians trying to make money from those that simply wish to do what they are passionate about. This attribute is one that all of us musicians out there may wish to keep in the forefront. Their hard work and dedication to music is what makes Sky Burial one of those bands that treats their craft as an art form mainly for themselves.
Sky Burial’s new album, Where Four Rivers Flow, is available now through Replenish Records. For more information, go to skyburialtn.bandcamp.com.