Interview with Cormorant

Cormorant, with their latest effort, Dwellings, has managed to charm many a fan of black and folk metal, with the perfect fusion of the 2 genres (and more!) in the music that they have released on the album. We talk to guitarist Matt to find out what goes on behind the scenes.

https://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F32186905 Cormorant – Confusion Of Tongues by heavymetaltribune

Greetings Matt! The band’s name was derived from the Latin term of a sea raven. The band has mentioned that the raven is also a symbol of gluttony and deception. How does this name relate to the band’s music?

The word “cormorant” is interesting because on the surface it’s the name of this weird bird that has developed these amphibian-like features that allow it to dive underwater for fish, but it has also been used in literature for many years as a metaphor for gluttony, deception and greed—Satan taking the form of a cormorant in Paradise Lost is probably the most famous example. The long answer is the name relates to our music because it represents the dichotomy of “many things existing at once,” which seems to be the tendency of our musical output. The short answer is we think cormorants are fucking cool!

The band recently released the second full length album, Dwellings, and has received much praise from the metal community. Was this expected on the band’s part, and how does the band feel about it?

The response to Dwellings has been awesome! We’re very humbled by all the positive press and fan reactions. It sounds cliché, but we really are just four dudes who enjoy writing and playing music together, so to know that people all over the world are finding meaning in our work is very gratifying and pretty surreal. We spent about two years writing this album, so we knew the material was as good as it could possibly be, but once you record something and release it to the public, it’s out of your hands in terms of reception. Instead of having certain expectations, we were more curious about how our fans would react to the shift in vocal style and production, but it seems like most people have accepted that as a natural progression of our sound.

Following the band’s debut release, Dwellings also contains the unique experimentation of combining different elements in the music. How did the idea of fusing elements of different extreme metal subgenres come about, and was this a conscious decision when writing the music on Dwellings?

The different elements found in our music are the result of four different people with four different writing and playing styles coming together and trying to make heavy, thoughtful, interesting music. There’s never been a point where we all sat down and said, “OK, next we’ll go to a black metal part and follow that with a crushing doom part, then we’ll bring it back with some jazzy stuff.” It all just happens naturally when we get into a room together. Every person in the band listens to a broad range of music that spans across every conceivable genre, and those influences naturally come out when we’re writing.

The album also sees each of the members displaying their flair on their instruments, including bassist Arthur who is given lead spots for his bass guitars as well, and yourself and Nick trading guitar solos. What was the songwriting process like, and did moments like these arise spontaneously or were they planned when writing the songs?

The songwriting process for Dwellings took about two years and started very soon after we recorded Metazoa. We’ve never been a touring band, so instead of practicing older songs in preparation for a bunch of shows, we were able to focus on writing new songs and honing certain elements of our sound. Our songwriting process has always been very organic—we come to practice, jam on some riffs and talk about ideas until something tangible comes out of it. The lead guitar and bass work also comes out of this process. We’ll isolate a section that sounds like it could benefit from a ripping solo and go from there.

Throughout the album, there is a nice balance of more melodic and atmospheric passages and heavier moments like on Junta, with most of the tracks sounding pretty different from each other. How does the band go about deciding what goes where on the album, since it was mentioned that you were in charge of writing some of the heavier riffs on the album?

We always try to create a sense of balance with our songs, whether it’s the order in which they’re placed on a record or the order in which we play them live. That’s one benefit of having songs that are significantly longer than others—it gives us a chance to control the flow and create a well-rounded experience for whoever is listening. Each of our songs has its own personality, so finding the right place for them is important.

Also, what are some of the influences that the band brings in when writing the music on Dwellings?

Again, all four of us have always been influenced by a massive amount of bands and musicians across every style of music, and this was no different when we were writing Dwellings. There were some riffs we would label as “the Enslaved riff” or “the Rush riff” just to keep track of them for our own purposes, but there wasn’t a single band that heavily influenced us at that time.

Unlike on Metazoa which featured a guest vocalist and cellist, Dwellings has the band members handling all instruments, with the only non-conventional instrument being the mandolin. What was the reason behind this?

Actually, there’s no mandolin on Dwellings. There are only two uses of non-traditional instruments on the record: a piano at the end of “Funambulist” and a Moog synthesizer between “A Howling Dust” and “Unearthly Dreamings.” Metazoa was an important record for us because it was our first time in a big studio with a big name producer, and we took that as an opportunity to throw everything we possibly could into the mix. It was certainly ambitious and a lot of people like how it turned out, but we ran into some problems when it came time to play those songs live after the album came out. A lot of the best parts on Metazoa come from instruments and musicians that are never with us when we’re on stage, and we noticed that those songs lose a bit of power when it’s just guitars, bass, drums and vocals. That’s why we wanted to strip everything down for Dwellings and focus on writing progressive, expansive, interesting music that was as honest as possible in its execution and delivery. We can play all the Dwellings songs live and they maintain their power, which is equally important for us and our audience.

Most bands nowadays focus simply on the loudness, gain and distortion in their guitar tone, but it seems that guitar tone plays a big role in Cormorant’s music, evident from the soaring tone on the guitar solos and the at times fuzzy rhythm guitar tone. What was Nick’s and your setups for the recording of Dwellings, and what is your ideal/dream setup?

Nick and I both used our regular setups for the Dwellings recording, just with slightly different levels and settings to accomplish different things we wanted to hear. Nick used an early 1983-4 JCM 800 and Marshall 1960A cab for his heavy parts and a Fender Vibrolux for his clean parts. I run my guitar through a Mesa Boogie Single Rectifier head and a custom Bogner cab with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers, which gives me the warm yet ripping tone that I like. I also play through a few pedals, including a Boss Digital Delay, Boss Digital Reverb and a super old Boss Chorus, but those are only for clean stuff—I plug straight into the Mesa for the heavy metal tone. For guitars, I used a Jackson WRMG Warrior for most of the riffing, a custom Greg Nelson for most of my leads, and my Ibanez RG for some stuff here and there. As for my ideal setup, any high end Rectifier model from Mesa Boogie would be awesome. I really love the warm tube sound they’ve been able to create; it lends itself well to heavy metal.

Matt Solis (guitars, backing vocals)

Also, instead of focusing on speed and technicality, there are numerous solos on Dwellings that focus on the melody and emotions that are evoked. Who are some of your personal influences when it comes to guitar playing?

The majority of the expressive guitar leads you hear on Dwellings are played by Nick—he comes from more of a classic rock and blues background, so he has a great ear for solos that have their own voice and convey very powerful emotions. My solos are more technical and heavy metal oriented, which isn’t to say they don’t have their own emotion, but Nick’s have a certain feel to them that can’t be replicated. When it comes to the guitar, my personal influences are pretty wide ranging, but if I had to narrow it down to the people who made me the player I am today, it would be Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Alex Lifeson. They got me interested in what could be accomplished with a guitar and gave me the courage to experiment until I found a sound that was my own.

Matt, you have also played bass for power metal band In Virtue as well. How has this experience been different compared to playing in a more extreme metal band like Cormorant?

In Virtue was a fun band to play in. I met those dudes in college and quickly became friends with them based on our shared love of metal. They were just starting In Virtue and didn’t have a bass player yet, so I volunteered to help out after hearing a couple demo songs. I played with them for a few years and had a great time. It was definitely a different experience from Cormorant, because I wasn’t writing any of the music or even playing guitar, but I looked at it as an opportunity to play a type of metal that I wasn’t too familiar with, and I learned a lot about composition and structure from Trey, who is a really amazing musician. They have a new record coming out soon, too, so it’s cool to see they’re still plugging away.

The lyrical contents are another highlight of the album, besides the awesome music present. What are the underlying themes for the music on Dwellings, and where are lyrical inspirations drawn from?

Arthur writes all the lyrics and spends a lot of time crafting them, so I can’t really speak to that part of the process, but lyrical themes have always been important to everyone in the band. Our music is very expressive and runs through a lot of different moods, so we felt a storyteller type of approach to lyrical content would fit best. For Dwellings, Arthur focused heavily on the notion of legacy—what do we leave behind, both as a society and as individuals? When everything is gone, what will we be remembered by? The characters in the songs on Dwellings are all struggling with this question in some way.

One thing that certainly caught my eye was the elaborate album artwork. What is the concept and story behind the album artwork, and how was it conceived?

We had a very loose concept when we first started thinking about artwork—interestingly enough, it was fairly minimalist in terms of execution, which is crazy when you look at the finished product! Basically, we wanted a tower similar to the Tower of Babel that incorporated different scenes and characters from the lyrics. Through a lot of back and forth with the artist, Alice Duke, we were able to come up with something we felt was unique and spoke to the overall feeling of the record. Alice is an awesome artist from England—she probably wanted to kill us at various points throughout the process, but the end result was worth all the headaches. She really created something special, and we’re very proud of it.

The band has also used different logos on each of the releases, from The Last Tree to Dwellings. What was the reason behind this, and how did the current logo come about, and how does it fit with the music on Dwellings?

The logo is similar to our music—it shifts and changes based on what we’re feeling at a particular time. It’s not that we’re unhappy with any of them, we just like to have as many options as possible. The logo that’s on Dwellings was created by Alice. She’s really excellent at calligraphy, so we just decided to capitalize on her skills and have her make a new logo with that type of text. We still use the other logos on shirts and stickers and stuff, so it’s not like we’re abandoning one for another. We just like to switch it up every now and then.

The album is currently available only on CD. Are there any plans in the future for a vinyl release of Dwellings, and if so, when can fans expect to see it?

Actually, yes! Dwellings is coming out on vinyl in February on Handshake Inc., which is a fairly new label started by Dave Hall and our publicist, Kim Kelly. We’re very excited for this, because Dwellings was recorded to tape and will sound absolutely awesome on wax. As an independent band, printing vinyl ourselves was never a financially viable option (even though it was always at the top of the priority list), so working with Handshake is a great opportunity for us. They’re also going to be releasing Metazoa on vinyl at some point, so watch out for that.

A Facebook post by the band mentioned the band’s request to piracy blogs providing download links to Dwellings to include the band’s BandCamp link on them. What is the band’s take on music downloading, and how has it affected the band, with Dwellings being released independently?

Illegal downloading is a weird thing. Even with this new SOPA legislation being pushed through Congress, I truly believe there’s no way to stop it. The Internet has created a culture of technologically savvy people who will ultimately find a way to get what they want. Personally, I have no problem with online piracy, and that’s because it mostly affects the record labels that have been screwing bands over with shitty deals for decades. That’s not to say there aren’t reputable labels out there, especially in the heavy metal world, but for the most part, artists and bands are treated like replaceable commodities even though they provide the products that allow the record companies to make money. It’s a dumb fucking system, so I absolutely understand why somebody would download an album online instead of going through the avenues to pay for it. It’s strange for an independent band like us because we pay for everything out of our own pockets, but illegal downloads give us exposure to a larger audience so it sort of balances out.

Since your joining the band between The Last Tree EP and now, how would you say the band has grown, as individual musicians and as a collective?

We’ve become more focused with our writing over the years and more in tune with what “progressive” means to us. This line-up has been playing together for four years now, and we’ve been able to develop a powerful musical connection with each other that’s based purely on honesty, which, in my experience playing in other bands, is a rare thing. I feel lucky to play in a band that has a strong idea of what it wants to do and a desire to push the DIY spirit as far as possible.

We have come to the end of the interview, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!

Thanks for the interview! We really appreciate the support; it’s what makes us want to continue writing and performing music.

Related articles:
Album Review: Cormorant – Dwellings

Cormorant on the internet:
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©2012 Heavy Metal Tribune | Hong Rui

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