Metal Skull: Eagle Twin: The Universality Of Crows: An Interview With Gentry Densley

Salt Lake City duo Eagle Twin, featuring Gentry Densley of Iceburn and one half of Ascend (the other being Southern Lord head honcho/SunnO))) member Greg Anderson) as well as drummer Tyler Smith, recently released their debut LP, The Unkindness Of Crows. A thematic collection of songs based heavily on the avian concept hinted in the title, the album is a work of avant garde sludge made distinct by Smith’s patient rhythms, Densley’s throat singing and their combined willingness and ability to improvise. The Unkindness Of Crows was recorded by Randall Dunn, and Eagle Twin is currently on the road with SunnO))). Gentry Densley took some time out for the following phone interview.

How did everything come together and what have you been doing since Iceburn?

Iceburn went into a total free jazz improvised music area, and I was doing that kind of stuff for a while, then I decided I wanted to play some more riff-based music. A little louder, heavier stuff. I’d actually played with Tyler Smith, the drummer. Back in ’97 we had a thing called Serious Fire that was a power trio setup, kind of riffy, heavy like Hendrix, Caspar Brotzmann-type stuff, then around 2000, I started doing more of that stuff with different drummer and I ended up back with Tyler Smith. It’s been a few years now we’ve been developing the Eagle Twin idea. In the years since Iceburn I did tons of different things and played in Form of Rocket with Tyler for a while and toured a bit. We had some other side things. Then I started doing Ascend, and after that, Greg had heard of Eagle Twin, so he wanted me to put that out on Southern Lord as well, so in the past couple years, that all came to fruition.

Which came first, the band or the Eagle Twin concept?

The crow concept, using that for the ideas with the songs, that came before and only later did we kind of put it under the heading of Eagle Twin. I had a lot of these songs just kind of floating in my brain and riffs down on tape, and that was well before we started doing Eagle Twin. I was in a thing called Smashy Smashy for a while, a duo.

That’s a great name.

Yeah, that was my first duo. We had an album out. It was a little more frenetic. But yeah (laughs). Good times. That’s what we did: Smash stuff. So those songs were around and we started developing an overall mythology with Eagle Twin, more of an animalistic vibe it seemed to go along with what we were into a little better. It’s good to have a theme overall, I guess. I don’t sing about girls or about Satan or something, I kind of have something that I—I grew up with animals and in the mountains, so it’s a better spiritual connection to that stuff.

Was there something particular about crows that you thought fit?

Well, I work in a jail library. I work in the jail giving people books, I’m the librarian. We used to have a copy of Ted Hughes’ The Crow. It’s a book of poems. He was poet laureate in Britain before he died, married to Sylvia Plath who wrote some awesome poems as well and The Bell Jar. I picked that up and the language of the poems would always suggest the music to me, the rhythm would give me riff ideas, and it came from that as well, but the lyrical ideas started meaning more to me and it seems like he takes all sorts of world myths and biblical things and imposes onto his crow character. I thought that was really interesting that you could take these universal myths and embody them into one character, just show how it all connects. So that started to interest me a lot more and so I started using the crow as my own variation on that character. Making up my own stories about him and stuff.

When did the lyrics come into play with the songs?

In almost all cases, the lyrics came first and they totally had structure. I’d never worked like that before. In all my other bands, the musical development was first. I actually liked it a lot, just because it made it more concise. You didn’t have to make a lot of decisions the way you might if you’re purely composing abstractly, but you can also see on the album we take it to some far out places in between some of the words at times. There’s freedom to do that. The words always came first in all the Eagle Twin stuff and we did the music around that.

That makes sense since the concept is so much a part of the record.

All the riffs, I think they’re pretty rich, have a lot to them, maybe because they come from the words. Maybe not, I don’t know. They definitely are a little different than I might write if I just picked up and tried to play something.