A Storm Of Light are dense and multi-faceted, with each song a narrative spiralling off in exciting directions. They carry the trace of Neurosis but are distinct and just as immersive and emotionally draining. They’re fast becoming essential listening for those who are inclined towards ambience and experimentation.
Songwriter, singer, guitarist, keyboardist and visionary artist Josh Graham sat down with Metalmouth at Temples Festival to talk circle pits, onstage woes and dressing up…
Welcome! How’ve you guys been enjoying temples Festival thus far?
Yeah, awesome! We got in about an hour ago.
Did you catch Neurosis’s soundcheck?
No, we missed it by a little bit.
I imagine you’ve seen it before…
Oh yeah. Twelve years! [both laugh]
Tell me more about the background of the band. Obviously you’ve got links to Neurosis but tell me about the formation and intentions behind it.
The man thing for me is that I wasn’t as into the music that red sparrows was playing – it wasn’t heavy enough – so I wanted to branch out and try something more focussed and heavier and with vocals. Dominic our bass player lived on the same block as me – he was on the first Tombs record – he wanted to do something a little more weird, outside of what tombs was doing. So we started a band, we cycled through a lot of people. We’re touring with Josh Holt too on guitar. Both Billy and Josh are in US Christmas and Generation Of Vipers so they’re busy!
Obviously you guys have got a take on post-metal – taking that as a general term – but you’ve got more of a punk focus which post-metal doesn’t usually go for.
Is this something you think particularly appeals to a festival like this which has a link to punk and metal but also bands who have elements of atmosphere?
Hopefully! We’re definitely trying to focus on festivals for a while and this is great. The mix of bands is awesome. We played Inferno Fest too which was cool – we were kinda the odd band out but it was kinda cool.
Awesome! I saw you guys in London a few years back at one of the ATP events. You guys had a really intense live show back then – has anything changed since then? Are you bringing in anything new?
Actually that show was a major emphasis for our new record. We’d all seen Slayer a bunch of times but we’d been on tour with Sleep. We watched their soundcheck and we were like “slower isn’t always heavier” so that show sparked our interest in speeding things up and varying the direction of the band.
What’s your process for incorporating your performance aspect with the music?
Yeah – obviously you’ve had experience with that kinda thing before..
I look at it as an extension of the music. We’ve done shows periodically without it – we played last night without it – so it’s not crucial but it adds a more visual element to the show.
So does that extend to things like album artwork? By extension, how an album is presented?
The music and visuals are synonymous. They all work together a lot of times I start thinking about artwork ideas and that inspires musical ideas and it all sort of evolves and the last thing is always the visuals so at that point we have to tie it all together to create something together.
How did you feel your latest album was received?
The press we’ve seen has been awesome – I try not to seek it out, I just get what’s presented! We’ve been happy with it. It surprised a lot of people – we kinda left some of our post-metal elements behind.
I seem to remember it was well-taken when it came out. A lot of different things to similar bands who have that kind of approach
Yeah we really wanted to challenge ourselves. I’ve never been interested in labels. Having come from something very atmospheric, I wanted to really focus on driving songs that don’t have a lot of drifting off and weird parts [laughs]
So when you’re writing is there a group element? Is there a goal of writing specific things in songs or is it looser?
Usually we write the core of the record first – the stuff we play live. Then we round out he record so it’s not an hour of the same thing. That’s where things like Dead Flags come from.
Is there an idea to have a narrative through it?
I did fully sequential narratives for the first two records; I think they suffered sequentially as they were so tight lyrically – it literally told a story. With the last two there is – not a linear story – but an environment it exists within. So everything that’s happening is referencing certain elements. It’s not as obvious as it was before but it tends to make the records better without trying to focus on that sort of thing.
Have you guys got any specific themes unique to your take on heavy music? Anything you think you’re exploring that you don’t think other people are in heavy music?
We always do weird stuff – I sometimes worry we’re shooting ourselves in the foot, like if we did a whole record of songs like Disintegrate. I think always try to throw ourselves some weird things. Songs like Dead Flags. I feel like that is a strength of ours – not afraid to experiment outside of whatever genre people want to call us. Throw a wildcard or two in there.
Do you find the press have an issue with tagging you?
Have you seen anything particularly weird thrown around? “Experimental” is kinda a lazy tag…
Yeah… we get called “doom” a lot. Never really understood that.
Yeah – you’ve got the atmosphere.
Well the singing definitely separates us. It’s weird because there are a lot of bands who are going for Kill ‘Em All or Master Of Puppets or something like that. I always think musically it’s amazing – they were always singing on the records. It’s not opera singing but its notes and melodies that fit within the song structures. It seems like a lot of that gets left behind now. It just becomes atonal over these awesome Metallica parts. It’s cool to have the balls to sing – I certainly sucked for a while! I had to gradually get better with touring.
Following on from that – are there any groups at the moment that you’re especially into?
I’m really into Oransi Pazuzu – we played with them, had no idea who they were. That was in Finland four years ago – they were a local band, it was just a small tour for us. A couple of songs in I was like “what is this?” It was amazing, they totally defy all genres.
Their new things are great – I love that there are reference points to quite a few things but it never feels like it’s aping them. I’ve seen a few bands here and it kinda feels like they’re wearing their influence very obviously on their sleeve, a lot of Sabbath riffs coming in.
Yeah totally – Oransi Pazuzu sound like there’s a black metal guitarist and a surf guitarist…
I hear a lot of Hawkwind influence..
Yeah totally! Yeah they’re awesome. I also like Meshuggah a lot. And Sub Rosa on profound lore, I like them. Doomy but with really pretty vocals. Ides Of Gemini I like a lot.
Is there anyone you particularly think is an influence to you guys now?
Yob in a weird way – they’re amazing and their shows are sonically crushing. We’re all really intrigued with that band.
To lighten it a bit – what state is your tour bus in at the moment?
Actually pretty clean! This is the last day of a 30-day tour. We’re in a sprinter van. We’re pretty clean – we have some OCD guys in the band.
Probably for the best! [both laugh] so what is your approach to live sound? How do you ensure that individual instruments have a voice in the wall of sound?
Every instrument needs to be clear – we always take a sound engineer with us. It costs a lot of money but it’s a definite trade-off. If we’re gonna send out time playing shows then it should sound as good as it can.
Especially since you’re putting so many different parts into it.
Do you generally prefer festivals or just touring?
Sometimes festivals are super-hectic but I think ideally we’re gonna focus on those for a while. We’ve been in Europe almost every year – sometimes twice a year since our first record came out. In a way I think maybe we should chill out for a while.
So do you get some time to chill out when you’re playing here? Or do you turn up for the day and leave straight after?
Yeah its pretty much travel. We went to Sherwood Forest on an off day.
[laughs] That’s fantastic! What do you guys usually do on tour?
Try to go sight-seeing – we went to a weird day-excursion to forests on the Poland border. That was pretty awesome.
If you’re in Nottingham again you can go and visit Wayne Manor..
Oh really? That’s cool [laughs]
Are there any issues with presenting something as intricate as your live show? Not interpersonally but the logistics of presenting something with such a complex backdrop?
Oh yeah. [laughs] it goes wrong once in a while. We play two shows out of thirty where we had a weird thing with a computer – I kill the visuals after that as at that point they’re no longer in-sync. Then it becomes a distraction. Our visuals used to be more slow and cinematic, like a moving background almost – now they’re synced to what we’re playing so if it comes out of that by like 20 seconds then it becomes useless.
So everything is timed exactly?
Yeah, our drummer plays to a click – once we hit ‘go’ it’s on. If something happens we’re fucked! [laughs] It’s stressful but we’re used to it. At Roadburn, the amp I rented had a loose soldering joint inside so it kept turning on and off. We kept playing but the engineers swapped out a different head so we lost our live recording! But the show was fine. People that we knew said it was crazy, but it worked!
So do you have the option if something does go wrong to just focus on the music?
Yeah – we’ve tried in the past to rectify it, like putting chapters in the DVD or whatever. It just becomes awkward on stage – the best thing to do is just say “well that’s fucked!” and just play.
A little bit Spinal tap?
Yeah a bit! [laughs]
Do you have any tips for surviving a festival?
Generally I have really good experiences, especially with Neurosis. It’s hectic – ideally if you have your own space to chill, it’s cool to explore new things.
Shame Temples doesn’t have a fancy dress aspect like some other events – at Hellfest they have some themed days. Sonisphere has wrestling this year.
Oh like dressing up?
Yeah, like Bloodstock fell on Vincent Prices’s birthday one year so they had a themed day for him.
Crazy! That’s pretty awesome. But we just generally concentrate on trying not to smell too bad. Our personalities wouldn’t work out with trying to dress up [laughs]
Are there any groups you’re looking forward to seeing?
Yeah! Tombs and Amenra and Neurosis. There’s a ton of good stuff. Wish we were here for the whole thing.
Have you had any particularly excellent shows you’ve done so far?
In Belarus we had circle pits! That will probably never happen again. It was totally crazy. Berlin was awesome too, as was Prague.
Do people often react in a fairly predictable manner?
Sometimes people get confused by the visuals. They usually clap at weird points. Same thing with Red Sparrowes – you’re almost watching a movie sometimes you lose the rock chill in that environment. The new backgrounds are much more graphic and abstract – lots of symbolism, syncopated lights and motion. It’s tied into the writing but there are abstract moments – I haven’t done anything like that before.
What’s next for you guys? I guess you’ll want to relax after the tour?
Yeah we’re gonna take it easy for a while. We’re doing a festival in Florida in August, maybe do some shows around then. We’ll see what opportunities come up. Maybe come back next year for festivals.
Not thinking about recording just yet? I guess you’ve just finished…
Yeah we’ve just finished – we want to take our time. We’ve been a band for six years, I think we have like seven releases. We wanna let this record sit a little longer that we would with others – we’ve reached a place where we should be as a band and more people who weren’t interested in us previously have shown some interest in this record.
To conclude, do you have anything to say to the patrons of Temples?
Thanks for coming to see the bands – we all need it!
Temples Festival online: http://www.templesfestival.co.uk
“Nations To Flames” out now via Southern Lord. Buy it here: Bandcamp