Interview with Aaron Turner of Isis: Radiating Energy

IsisFor a band whose introduction to the public at large was relatively recent—supporting Tool on their 2006 arena tour—Isis’ career is measured in eras, chiefly around their album statements. Twelve years into their evolution, the quintet of lead singer/guitarist Aaron Turner, bassist Jeff Caxide, drummer Aaron Harris and guitarists/multi-instrumentalists Michael Gallagher and B. Cliff Meyer have started another epoch with Wavering Radiant, an album that weaves many various musical threads the band has explored over the years into seven surprisingly tight songs from the masters of sprawling post-metal.

Signaling a change in direction before the album’s very release by enlisting Joe Barresi to produce the album instead of longtime collaborator Matt Bayles, Isis’ urge to stretch their own boundaries, or parameters as Turner calls them, is laid plain from the onset. More brutally hardcore than much of their output over the last decade, Wavering Radiant also features some of the band’s most delicate melodies to date.

On the cusp of an American tour, I talked Turner’s ear off regarding the band’s evolving sound, news of a possible upcoming EP and the band’s unique experience touring with Tool. Matter of fact it’s so damn long, most of it had to be cut down in the print edition, but this is the full transcript. Take a deep breath.

There is something about the clean vocal on the record that’s a little cleaner, if I could put it that way. Are you more comfortable your singing on this record than previously?

Yeah, definitely. The approach that Joe [Barresi] took when we were tracking the vocals was very different from the approach that Matt Bayles had on the record that we recorded with him. Both approaches had their merits but basically Joe was really laid back, which was a nice change for us. Matt had been a total disciplinarian, and that was really good for us, but I think we’ve gotten to a point where we are able to discipline ourselves. With Joe, it was like there was no rushing at any point in the sessions, and he didn’t make anyone feel pressured about getting their parts right. I think for vocals, that is really key to me these days, just to feel relaxed and feel comfortable and that in and of itself just lends to a better performance. Beyond that, I think that just the continual experience of being on the road and providing vocals to other projects helped me gain more experience and confidence as a vocalist that truly helped as well.

Do you feel the ease in the recording transferred over to anything besides the vocals? Was it just overall performances seemed more fluid?

I guess to me it feels like a more natural record. It doesn’t feel so, I don’t want to say sterile, but Isis is not a completely precise band. A lot of what makes us work well, especially the last album, is just the feel that we have individually and collectively, and I think that was better captured on this record. There may be moments where we are actually somewhat more sloppy than on past recordings, but I think that gives it a more natural feel, which to me, in our case works to our benefit. We’re not like Meshuggah or something like that where we are supposed to be really mechanical and cold—there is supposed to be some looseness, I think, to what we do. That’s just who we are, and as I said I think that that’s been better represented this time around than perhaps it has been prior.

So versus maybe Panopticon which sounds almost icy?

Yeah, and I actually think that in the case of Panopticon worked well for that particular record and no, I don’t have any qualm now about the way that record was recorded. Considering the songs this time around and what we wanted to hear in the final aspect in the recording, I think that this approach was probably better and again perhaps a better representation of what we actually sound like.