Life as a band is rarely easy for novel Chicago-based doom metal band The Atlas Moth. Perhaps that’s why, as guitarist/vocalist Stavros explains below, their latest album, An Ache For The Distance (Profound Lore—2011), came about so naturally. Frustration, discomfort and misery are abundant when you’re sleeping on your amps in the back of a van or against the bony shoulder of your bass player.
Anxiety is like food for the artist, which is good because food isn’t cheap.
The Atlas Moth are as purely doom as any of their dirgy contemporaries, but what makes them so admirable is that they bring something new to the style while staying true to its conventions. Loud guitars, plodding tempos and hoarse screams are all there, but the songs are also sonically forgiving; rather than suffocating you, the mix on An Ache For The Distance is refreshing.
The first track, “Coffin Varnish,” is a weedian’s attempt at anthemic rock and with harmonies reminiscent of Crowbar’s “Planets Collide.” Stavros’ callous vocals pierce the spacious mix as the table is set for the rest of the album. “Perpetual Generations” is the signature track of the record with a slick, shuffled octave riff that is as heavy as it is catchy. “Holes In The Desert” provides the most memorable vocal in its colorful chorus, played in airy 6/8 time. No track exceeds seven minutes, and at around 44 minutes in length, An Ache For The Distance is easy to get through and never outstays it’s welcome.
There’s not a whole lot of info about you guys online; I don’t see a band bio or Wikipedia page, it’s just the music, really. Is it a conscious effort to keep the band associated with just the music?
Well, I mean, there’s definitely a lack of mystery in music nowadays; you can Google pretty much anything and find out whatever you want. It’s nice to be a little bit under the radar.
You can find our music everywhere; that’s what really matters. As long as people can hear the songs and come see us play, that’s what really matters.
Is that also why you have the Bandcamp with your albums up to stream for free?
I put that up there because I felt like it would be better for people to hear it than have no way of hearing it… I expect people to just download it anyway, so you might as well make it easy for them to hear it.
I’m not really worried about selling a record; I just want people to hear it.
As far as the sound of the two records, I found the newer one catchier compared to the first full-length. How do you think that came about?
It was pretty natural, actually. We were really focused on writing songs, as opposed to dirgy, doomy, epic songs. We wanted to make things catchy; we wanted to make sure people remembered stuff. It wasn’t really something we were trying to do, but after a while it seemed like it was the route we were going. It feels a lot more natural. I’d rather hear a catchy song than hear something that I’m not going to remember.
Can you explain the album cover for An Ache For The Distance?
It was actually an idea I had. I found a bunch of slides from my mom’s vacations in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s to Asia and Europe. I kind of felt like that was kind of the same vibe—wanderlust, wanting to do a lot of travelling and stuff. We were trying to capture the fragility of it, I guess.
I thought it would be kind of cool looking if we projected those slides on someone’s body. We brought in a model that was totally into the idea—that was totally into our band. It was really easy, man. We just kind of set it up and did it. We shot about 1,000 photographs or something like that. I had about 300 to pick through. That picture kind of expressed everything I wanted to express on the record in my own way.
Everything that happened with the record just kind of happened. There wasn’t a lot of planning. If it doesn’t happen naturally, it feels wrong to me. Anytime I try to force anything for music or art it kind of blows up in may face. It was a very natural thing that happened and we all saw that picture and thought it kind of summed it up for us.
You said the record came out really naturally. You say that now, looking back. But while you were in the process, did it feel that way?
We wrote a lot of skeletons [of songs] before we went into the studio. We finished the majority of the record in the studio. It was very natural, very organic in general because we didn’t have a whole lot of material going into it.
We had a lot of skeletons; we had a couple ideas for songs, of course, but a majority of the ideas just kind of came out. I’d lay something down and I’d go home or go to work or something like that and I’d come back the next day and there would be a bunch of other ideas on top of it.
I’d write more on top of that, come up with more ideas, things would change—definitely a very carefree thing. We were just going to do whatever we want and see how it turns out.
[For the first record], I don’t think we were purposely constrictive on ourselves, but it was definitely more of a conscious effort to do things. I feel like that forced our hand a bit of what everything could have been.
This time it was, ‘get in there and work it out’ until we thought it was right. Most of the time, the first thing we did is what we kept.
How do you, as the band, approach working out tones for the record and for live performances, as far as how everything works together? Do you use the same gear live as on the record?
The one thing with everybody in the band is that it’s kind of like you want to trust everybody will do what’s best for the band. I don’t think any of us are really saying much about what our tones are. As far as from recording to live, we record with pretty much all of our gear. On the record, I think I played through three different amps at the same time—I think we all did; we all played through the same rig. But it was all our gear.
As far as live, we always just kind of did it ourselves. The more we did it, the more it made sense. We didn’t put a whole bunch of effort into honing it.
In listening to An Ache For The Distance recently, it occurred to me that both records sound so expansive; there’s a ton of space in the mix. Is that from how it was produced or how you play?
I think there was a constant thing where we were all trying to leave enough room for everybody. We have a lot of stuff going on—there’s three guitarists, there’s synth, there’s two vocalists. I think it has a lot to do with our tone. We try to keep things open so we can put more things on there, and not make it so convoluted.
On the last [record], there are times when there is so much shit going on at once that it’s almost overwhelming.
That’s why we wanted to leave a little bit more room on [An Ache For The Distance], as far as production goes and tone goes. We wanted to be able to add on top of it and layer it without making it too much for a person to take in. There’s really something new to take in every time you listen to the record.
It’s kind of a breath of fresh air.
A lot of bands that play the kind of music you do, it’s almost suffocating to listen to a whole album. Yours go by fairly easily because of the mixes in particular.
Yeah, I think that and having shorter songs helps too. We’re really conscious about not putting out a record that’s an hour long. We wanted something that’s kind of short, that’s not long-winded that you’d get bored by it.
It’s kind of the case with a lot of doom records, where you have to listen to it as a whole. You can’t really listen to a portion of it and get it or enjoy it or understand it. I’d rather have someone who would want to continually listen to our record over and over than just be exhausted from listening to music when you’re done with it.
What’s the status of the next Atlas Moth record?
We started writing a couple months ago. We’ve done some demos and stuff. After we’re done with this tour in September, we’re going to come home. Our keyboard player and guitar player Andrew has to have surgery on another hip. He had surgery earlier this year. When we get home, he’s going to do that. We’re going to continue writing and we’ll probably track over the fall/winter here and hopefully have a new record out by next summer or early fall—probably this time next year.
That would be the ideal time for us to release another record. It’s kind of a constant thing to be working on. We have like seven songs tracked right now. I don’t know if all of them are going to make it or if some will be combined or cut. We’re not really rushing it by any means. We have a lot of material built up. We started putting it together, just for ourselves, so we could kind of keep track of everything.
This will probably be our last tour of the year, then we’re just going to get down to the business of writing the record.
I saw you guys play live once at Irving Plaza as part of the Metalliance Tour in 2011 with Helmet, St. Vitus, Kylesa, Crowbar, Red Fang and Howl. What do you remember about that tour? It was seven bands, you openers were only playing 25 minutes…
I think our set was 20 [minutes]. It was really hard because our songs were all like, six or seven minutes long. I remember not sleeping a lot on that tour. There were a lot of long drives; we were chasing buses of the other bands.
It was definitely a tough tour, man. We got offered the tour and the only thing that I really cared about is that we were getting to tour with Crowbar, St. Vitus and Helmet. Kinda one of those things that we felt we had to do. In hindsight, it wasn’t the greatest idea (laughs). It was a lot of fun. Especially, the guys in Helmet and Crowbar, St. Vitus and Kylesa, Red Fang and Howl, they were all really awesome people. Even the bigger bands were trying to take care of us when they could.
It was definitely a hard tour for a band of our size, going on at five o’clock on a Wednesday in fucking North Carolina isn’t exactly a good idea, you know.
It was rough, but we had some great shows, some great times. We had some hard times too, but it was pretty fun. It was quite an experience.
The Atlas Moth will play at Brooklyn’s Saint Vitus on Sept. 5, and Philly’s The Barbary on Sept. 6. For more information, go to theatlasmoth.bandcamp.com.