MAKE Interview: the fun of pushing musical boundaries

North Carolina’s MAKE recently entered the studio to begin recording tracks for a brand new EP and their sophomore album. Entitled ‘Axis’, the 3-track EP will act as stop-gap before the release of their next full-length and is the first new material the band have recorded since their critically-acclaimed debut album, ‘Trephine’, was released earlier this year via the band’s own Black Iron Records imprint and on vinyl through Devouter Records in the UK. Today I’ll leave you with my quick chat with the band, talking about past, future and apocalypse. Fun times!

Hey guys, thanks for taking some time to answer my questions. I need to warn you, metal is not my area of expertise, and the same probably goes for my readers. Would you like to educate me (us) about MAKE, with a quick introduction? 

Scott: Hi there! We’re just a group of music enthusiasts with pretty vast influences who are attempting to create something as compelling as our own favorite music. As for genre familiarity…let’s just say I loathe tribalism and exclusivity in music scenes, so no worries.

How was the experience at Hopscotch Music Festival last September? 

Scott: It was pretty great. Other than breaking my thumb the day before we played and then having to spend 40 excruciating minutes using that thumb to use a pick I couldn’t even hold earlier that morning… I think my enjoyment levels were pretty maxed out. Fun fact: I am no longer double-jointed in that thumb.

Spencer: Seconded.  It was a killer time.  Hard to complain when you’re on a bill with amazing bands (who are full of great folks, to boot), seeing some of your other favorites, and then, on top of that, playing a show where you feel truly appreciated for what you do regardless of genre or mass-appeal.  Hopscotch is really a wonderful experience in that regard; how every band is reminded by the organization that what we do matters and that our music is important to folks.  Totally an honor.

Were you looking forward to any of the other bands performing? 

Scott: Of course! Oren Ambarchi and Zola Jesus were my “must see” performers. Oren because I feel he is one of the most exciting (not to mention prolific) musicians in the world right now and Zola because my curiosity was piqued for what I saw as this sort of Cyndi Lauper meets Siouxsie Sioux personality. Pop meets noise I guess? Oren was, in my opinion, the highlight of the festival. I thought his execution was flawless and his intensity exciting and refreshing. And Zola Jesus ended up being exactly what I hoped it would be (I don’t listen to much stuff this popular with the indie crowd so it was a very, very different experience for me). Jon Mueller’s Death Blues also killed it.

Spencer: I was particularly psyched about seeing the bands we played with (Vattnet Viskar, The Atlas Moth, and Altar of Plagues), and aside from them I’ll second Oren Ambarchi (saw him twice, absolutely brilliant both times) and add Sunn O))) (killed it), Thee Oh Sees (also killed it), and a number of my friends’ bands (Last Year’s Men, Flesh Wounds, and Spider Bags).  I was bummed to miss out on The Jesus and Mary Chain, Pallbearer, Black Skies, Whateverbrains, and myriad others, but so it goes with music festivals.  There will be more opportunities.

Which is the aspect of live performances you enjoy the most as musicians onstage? 

Scott: There’s a magical combination of equipment functioning properly, the crowd responding enthusiastically and us performing well which puts me in a zone outside of everything. If that combination is there I am able to lose myself in the music completely…and in turn give my best performance. That moment, when it happens, is one of the most transcendent I’ve experienced and one I always look forward to experiencing again.

Spencer: Live performances are probably the closest I come to meditation.  I get psyched when people or writers refer to our music as being meditative, because ultimately that’s where it comes from.  Being able to share those meditations with others who are enthusiastic about them is basically why I play music.  So I guess my favorite moment is looking out and seeing people who are on our wavelength, participating in their own form of meditation (or however they refer to it) with us.  Going back to Hopscotch, that was another thing that made that festival so special; you could tell that the people who came to see us (and pretty much any other band or artist that I saw) were there because the music means something to them.

Which is the one you enjoy the most when part of the crowd instead?

Scott: Seeing a band look like their music means as much to them as mine does to me. If your music doesn’t affect you enough to make you move or put you in a trance while performing it then chances are you’re boring the shit out of me too. Have you seen Sir Richard Bishop or Daniel Higgs perform? Be that guy. If you can’t be that guy…if you’re not sweating your ass off one song into your set then do the world a favor and stay home until you start believing in yourself. I realize we can’t all be Iggy Pop all the time and that sort of behavior isn’t appropriate for every style of music, but if you’re unable to convince me that you’re bleeding for us all onstage in some capacity I begin to question what the hell it is you’re doing here and why we as an audience have been invited.

Could you talk to us a bit more about the EP Axis? Is this a nibble before a new LP hits us? 

Scott: It’s not particularly meant to be any kind of preview of things to come if that’s your question. They’re just songs we didn’t feel fit in with the rest of the material we’re planning on using for the next LP. ‘Axis’ was something we had envisioned from the moment we created it as being a stand-alone release and then as time went on we thought it might be nice to fill the EP out a bit more. ‘Chimera’ was another song we didn’t think quite fit in with the other newer material so that got added. The third track was built entirely from improvised material and then cut up and arranged at home (which is something I’d like us to continue doing in the future). I’m very into the philosophy of improvisation. I think it can be very revealing about your own nature as a musician. Not to mention there’s something to be said about the purity of an uncontrived performance.

How has your sound changed in the EP? How can it be at the same time more metal and less metal? 

Scott: Our sound is always evolving as we evolve as people but I don’t necessarily think anything has changed…at least not since Daniel left. I think we’re just getting better at being us. As for the second question, that’s easy: ‘Chimera’ is probably the most metal song we’ve written to date and ‘The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters’ the least metal.

Spencer: I think the way I’d say we’ve changed is that we’ve become more comfortable with ourselves and more established in our sound, and that is at once a stabilization and a game changer.  On the one hand we have a better idea of how we work together as a three-piece, and that allows us to better establish our own signature.  However, that establishment and stabilization also allows us to further explore, and on this EP we did just that.  We hit our extremes (to date, anyway), explored the heaviest and darkest we can get, and then played with material that, while still brooding in the way that our music often is, never reaches the point of being metal.  Some might even say that “The Sleep of Reason…” never even gets heavy.  So yeah, I think our biggest change here is really finding our comfort zone and using that center (that Axis, if you will) to step outside of the comfort zone we just created and keep pushing our boundaries.

The re-release of Trephine in LP format by Devouter Records was an important goal, also for Devouter as it was its first release. And it is your first vinyl as well, great stuff. Do you lean in general more towards physical copies or digital music? 

Scott: If we could afford it we’d release everything we do on every available format as each has their upside, but sadly the reality right now is that we are limited as to how we can release our music. Digital is certainly the cheapest route as you don’t have to produce anything but the music itself.

How has the reaction to Trephine in the UK been? 

Scott: I don’t know…their magazines and blogs seem to like us! Would love to make to across the sea someday and find out.

Despite me not being completely into metal-sphere, you have been described with different “labels”, sub-genres such as “progressive sludge doom”. How do you feel about the whole labeling and subgenre concept? Have you got your heads around it, or you’d rather just be labelled as “MAKE”? 

Scott: I think it’s a fairly annoying and confusing yet admittedly useful tool for journalists. Beyond that I don’t particularly care other than I hate we have to sit around labeling ourselves with tags like “sludge” so we can be properly discovered in bandcamp or whatever other search engine, blog or zine. Honestly half the time I’m not even sure what they even mean or are referring to and if I do I often find myself thinking “Really, you’re labeling *that* band as *that*?” I think beyond it being obviously limiting in practice it is counter-productive to the creative process on all sides when you consider the most interesting music can’t be simply passed off with a generic genre label or two. I think the more words you need to use to describe a band, the more unique that band likely is…though of course uniqueness does not necessarily imply quality…at least you’re having a more interesting and engaging discussion along the way.

Spencer: I’m also not terribly into genre labeling aside from being able to quickly identify ourselves to press or an audience, but at the same time I’m somewhat fascinated with the number of different labels in the metal underground and I think in a sense it’s a testament to the ever-growing diversity and versatility of heavy bands and the heavy music archetype.  There’s no other genre (at least within popular music) that has so many sub-genres and associated labels.  It’s a direct contradiction of the notion that so many outside of the metal-sphere have that metal is just a bunch of banging and screaming.  It demonstrates that metal fans are more than just angry, black-wearing long-hairs and that we actually have an ear for nuance and variation.  While I don’t like having to describe our own band within those terms (and nor do most other bands I’ve seen talk about the subject), there is something positive about the whole subgenre game.

The apocalypse is coming and you have to put one track into a time capsule to preserve for future generations. What would it be? 

Scott: Rachmaninoff’s 2nd or perhaps 3rd piano concerto. Future generations might do well with a reminder that popular music didn’t begin with Lady Gaga.

Spencer: Is this question about one of our own tracks or just any song or musical piece?  If it’s one of ours, probably “Axis” or a song we have yet to release called “The Inevitable Circle”.  As for another artist’s music… that’s really tough.  Maybe “Lunacy” or “Jim” by Swans, “Big Church” by Sunn O))), or “Sway” by The Rolling Stones.

Are there any appointments left in your agenda for the rest of 2012? And what’s on the cards for 2013?

Scott: The rest of the year will see us taking our time continuing to write the next LP and 2013 will hopefully see the release of it!

Spencer: Definitely hoping to tour again as well.  Both of the trips we’ve been on so far have been really spectacular, and I’d love an opportunity to do more of that!

Thank you so much guys for your answers, has been a pleasure chatting with you!


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