Interview with Asphodel Wine

Asphodel Wine - Interview


When two great musicians from great bands meet some magic can happen. So did it happen with Asphodel Wine who are about to finish their second album.

When Sarah Pendleton (violinist and vocalist of SubRosa-fame) and Zachary Livingston (guitar hero and singer in Minsk) met, the magic happened, the music on their debut album Slowdance Macabre is living and breathing proof of it. The two did not only become musical partners but also have been a long-distance-relationship couple ever since. We get their takes on romance, the gothic, the amount of beer Zachary wants to chug down and how Sarah fell in love with his interior design!

Asphodel Wine – where does the name come from? I guess, it comes from the plant “asphodel” - but what does the “wine” have to do with it? Where is the connection because I figure that you are not simply referring to wine made from asphodel?

Zachary Livingston: It started as the working title for the song that became “Incorporeal”. The significance of the asphodel to me is that it is, in fictional literature, the only flower that grows in the underworld. Which has a profound resonation to me and is the perfect allegory for how I hear musical dynamics in my mind; the power of untamable beauty surviving and thriving in the thick of hellfire and brimstone ~ and unmitigated torture. And turning it into our own proverbial “wine” gave it the feel of a unique recipe for turning said torture into personal salvation, which is in fact what wine is.

Sarah Pendleton: I couldn’t have said it better. I also love the alchemical concept of transforming one kind of matter into another. In this case transforming a flowering plant into a libation that can alter your state of mind.

Slowdance Macabre is a wonderful record – and I am sure that the allusion to the “dance macabre” with all its connotations is not an accident, right?

Zachary: Indeed not an accident at all. Much like our band name, the title of our first record needed to express our artistic intentions. To combine the ever-present allure of the darkest corners of existence and consciousness with their inseparable counterpart ~ Romance.

Sarah: Camille Saint-Saens is one of my favorite composers, and when I listen to his Danse Macabre, I close my eyes and think about every human having to do their own “dance” with death, to come to terms with mortality. How bright and hot will your fire burn when you realize your time is limited?

How “macabre” is the couple of Pendleton and Livingston? How professional is it?

Zachary: None more macabre.

Sarah: None more indeed.

Danse Macabre is also known as the death with the death, an allegory on the fact that we will all face death – how influential was that idea on you? And why “slow-dance”?

Zachary: Personally, it is half the entirety of my influence, or at least motivation. The fear of the clock running out with expressions left unvoiced, but also the comfort in knowing that one day the fire will cease to burn. The “slow-dance” adaptation is I suppose our own personalization that proudly and loudly proclaims the romantic aspect of our music and connection to each other. Which is the other half of my influence and motivation. So really, Slowdance Macabre is the ONLY thing our first offering could have been called.

How can I envision your writing process? Do you both write the songs together? Or does one of you bring an initial idea?

Zachary: We both write our own instrumental parts and we both write the lyrics and vocals. But because of the geographical distance between us for now, we demo every song starting with my parts- guitar, bass, drums and partial vocals. I then send the demo to Sarah.

Sarah: Once Zac sends me a new demo, I listen and absorb it for a while, and then I write and record my parts on the demo and send it back to him. This whole process is vital to me keeping sane when we are so far apart.

The two lovers sharing a microphone

Your debut was released on Consouling Sound from Belgium – how did that happen?

Zachary: The lovelies at Consouling Sounds came into my life in late 2018 when they agreed to release a split E.P. with Minsk (for whom I play bass) and our brothers Zatokrev. They are a very open-minded, open-hearted, eclectic, wonderful group of humans and their roster of bands reflects that very much. Somehow it just felt like it would be a good home for something like Slowdance Macabre.

Sarah: Consouling Sounds, and everyone I’ve met associated with them, are fabulous.

Romance – you very often declare your love for each other on Facebook with little gestures and words. How romantic are you two? Who is the more romantic one?

Sarah: It’s definitely a tie for most romantic. No one has ever written songs both for and with me before. The prospect of writing songs with my love was terrifying at first, because you cannot write good music without being vulnerable. But opening myself this way has created a dynamic that was previously unknown.

Zachary: I’d say it’s a tie for most romantic. Though rather than casually revealing publicly on a daily basis, I think we more enjoy expressing it in our music. All of our romantic secrets lie woven into our songs. It maintains mystique and holds more meaning for me that way. Our connection is so multi-layered that art is the only way we can properly reveal it.

Whenever I imagine a regular evening in your “house” it ends up in a kind of gothic setting, somewhere close to the setting of The Canterbury Tales or Boccaccio’s Decamerone. But that is just a cliché, right?

Sarah: You’ve got the mood just right. For me, those are more archetypes than clichés. When Zac and I figured out that we have the same taste in interior decorating, I fell even harder for him.

Evening Mood

Zachary: Absolutely. Victorian deep reds and candlelit everything.

Do you think that the intimacy of your music could only have been achieved between lovers?

Zachary: Yes. Especially the intimacy revealed in our forthcoming second album.

Sarah: If the musicians were not already lovers, writing songs like this would make sparks fly. We were not yet lovers when we started Asphodel Wine, only close friends.

Many people talk about sex as “le petit mort” - the little death. Would you agree that any kind of relationship also implies sacrificing something for the other one? Letting it die?

Sarah: I am completely free to be myself with Zac, and so the things I must sacrifice are the fortress walls that I spent so many years building, the sickness of the mind that keeps you from truly loving.

Zachary: Such sacrifices can be both a death and a new life, depending on your partner. For me personally, every previous relationship has certainly had an intolerable amount of instincts and desires being left to die, as you say. But this time the only thing left to die is the unwanted past. This time it’s all truth and growth and meaning and absolute freedom to exist as I really truly am. I will never go back.

How do you envision that moment after death?

Sarah: I’ve been contemplating that for as long as I can remember. I will probably continue to contemplate it until the moment of my death.

Zachary: Though speculation is inherently futile, I can only hope there are no more hangovers.

I am pretty sure, that you two share a love for “the Gothic”, therefore my next question for both of you: Your top 3 Gothic movies? Top 3 Gothic books/stories?

Zachary: 3 is almost impossible to narrow down. Movies- Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Penny Dreadful (series), Nosferatu (1979), Addams Family, The Crow, Only Lovers Left Alive, Nadja…Books- Silence of the Lambs, Hottest Blood, Scary stories to tell in the dark…

Sarah: Mmm, I second all of Zac’s picks, and I’ll throw Suspiria (1977), Extraordinary Tales (2015), and Edward Scissorhands into the mix. I’ll force myself to stick to 3 books only - And the Ass Saw the Angel (Nick Cave), The Dark Eidolon (Clark Ashton Smith), and H.P. Lovecraft’s Book of Horror.

What is most appealing to this mixture of gothic, macabre and music in your opinion?

Zachary: It’s really the most natural, unpremeditated thing, because it’s such a huge part of our personalities anyway. But what makes it so appealing in art is the elements of danger and mystery. Art should rock the boat and ruffle feathers. It should be unsafe, unpredictable and honest. Otherwise it’s merely marketing and advertising.

Sarah: Nailed it.

When listening to your music I have a kind of gloomy feeling, also because of the artwork. How important is the artwork to you and who did it for Slowdance Macabre?

Sarah: For me the moods of the music are many, from mysterious to sexy to sad to furious. I love hearing how people interpret it and what kind of mood they get from it. The photography for the album was done by our good friend and hugely talented photographer, Jessica Bundy. I did the layout/graphic design, based on the amazing ideas that Zac had.

Zachary: Artwork is hugely integral. There is absolutely NO randomness allowed. Ever. At least not for us. It has to reflect its contents within. An album’s face is a terrible thing to waste.

The cover of Slowdance Macabre

A few weeks ago you mentioned new material and a second album – how far along are you when it comes down to that?

Zachary: Our second full-length album is 90% recorded. And for as much as I adore Slowdance Macabre, I am ten times more proud and excited about this second forthcoming record. It really feels like we fell into our “thing” on this one. At this point it’s simply a matter of finishing up the final touches and starting the arduous task of getting the nasty motherfucker released into the world.

Sarah: Yeah, we were supposed to record the entire album in January 2021, but I fractured my left elbow while hiking a few days before our scheduled session, so I couldn’t play violin for a while. We’re getting close to completion now though.

I am sorry, but I have to ask the following – Sarah, how did the split of SubRosa come about because it was never a big thing in the scene. Even though the band was an insider tip for every one who really loves music.

Sarah: It was a complete surprise and a terrible heartbreak when SubRosa ended, but to honor the privacy and dignity of everyone involved, I will leave it at that. Andy, Kim, Levi, and I are about to release our first album as The Otolith, called Folium Limina, out on Blues Funeral next year. Folium Limina is a massively heavy, intricate representation of what happens when four close friends and weirdos get into the studio together.

And Zachary, what is the current status for Minsk? Will we get new material?

Zachary: Minsk is nearly finished with the demoing process of what we all feel in our bones is our most intense and experimental album yet. We couldn’t be more excited and in love with it. It is my personal feeling that we really elevated to some new universe with this one.

I also want to use the two questions before to get to my next one. The sound of Asphodel Wine is very different from the sound of both former bands. It is much less post-metal and I guess that this departure was intentional?

Zachary: It was never our intention to make another version of our other bands. We wanted Asphodel Wine to be not only the music we hear in our heads that we don’t hear from anyone else, but also the honest, unfiltered result of our personal connection, dynamic and taste.

Sarah: I’m certainly not the first to say this. Songs are like wild animals with wills of their own. You think you have control and you know how they will turn out, but in a wonderful, beautiful twist, they surprise you, even as you are writing them. All you need to do is write with sincerity, and open yourself to messages and signals whose origins may be unknown.

One of the songs on the record is “Incorporeal” as (at some point) it sounds as if was breaking into the post-metal genre, but then it doesn’t and you solve that moment in harmony and melody, in beauty. Did you want to hint at some roots?

Zachary: The sequence of the track listing of the album was very much on purpose, and is meant to be a slow crescendo building track to track . “Incorporeal” sits after four songs with acoustic guitars and is meant to be a sort of turning point in the sonic dynamic of the album. An explosion, really. In some ways, it serves as a candlelit corridor to “The Worst Way”.

With Sarah providing the strings there is some similar instrumentation connected to SubRosa whose sounds was very experimental for the genre – now here we have two acoustic instruments taking the lead – the violin and the acoustic guitar. And sometimes it sounds like a very well done version of (good!) acoustic 90s grunge. Is there something in that combination of instruments or was that your wish?

Zachary: As for the acoustic guitar, it was simply what I wrote the first four or five songs on initially. It was where my headspace was at the time, and where the muse took me. I never intended for the band’s guitar to be solely acoustic, which you will very much find out on the forthcoming second album. But since you mention it, I suppose I should confess that my favorite Alice In Chains record is Jar of Flies.

A few months ago, you participated in a Deep Purple cover album – how important is that band to you two?

Zachary: Deep Purple is one the most important bands in the multiverse to me. Always will be. And to have achieved a loving rendition of what I believe to be their greatest song, alongside many other great musicians who share the same passion, was truly a mind-blowing honor.

Sarah: When I was a child, my dad was always listening to great music. I fell in love with Deep Purple pretty early on, and I remember singing along to “Child in Time” from the time I was 9. Getting the opportunity to record a version of that song was exactly what Zac said, a mind-blowing honor.

How did you go about recording your version – did you choose to stay close to the original or did you want to change a lot?

Zachary: We decided to stay as close to the original as possible because it’s really one of those songs you don’t/can’t fuck with. Since it was performed by 4 people from 3 different locations, each part had to be recorded one at a time and then passed off to the next person to be built up. It started with my guitar, bass and backing vocal parts, then Sarah added her violin and world-crushing lead vocals. Holy fucking shit. Andy Patterson (SubRosa/ The Otolith) then crushed his thunderous drums. And then tying it all together, Christopher Bennett (Minsk), who is another Deep Purple superfan, recorded the organ/keys.

Sarah: Recording that song was so much fun, especially hearing each layer get added. Everyone killed it.

Are there any other bands or songs that you would like to cover to pay homage?

Zachary: We actually have a long-running list of cover song ideas we’re keeping in mind for a rainy day…

Sarah: We don’t want to say too much on that subject, but Nick Cave and Townes Van Zandt are on the list.

Duets – you’re songs are (naturally) duets. Is there any duo that you like or follow? Maybe one that inspired you?

Zachary: More than can be mentioned. So Fucking many. To name a few- Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, Of Blood and Mercury, the Righteous Brothers, Lighthouse in Darkness, Twin Temple…

Sarah: Yes, and Arabrot, and Lindsay Buckingham/Stevie Nicks!

Zachary, you often post pictures of your guitar building business – how many guitars do you custom-build each year? What was the most interesting one you built by now?

Zachary: I am a fucking guitar-oholic. For my day job, I am a luthier for Lākland Basses. I honestly couldn’t say how many I build because I have my own specific tasks and everyone kind of builds every bass together. But my personal projects, I’d say I build myself three or four guitars/basses a year. And I will never have enough.

What does you everyday life look like, Sarah?

Sarah: I have a beautiful son and I am a full time UX/UI Designer, so my days are busy, but I carve out sacred time for meditation, walks, and making music.

Hiking in the Snow

How must I envision the “Salt Lake Scene”?

Sarah: There are many seriously cool bands of all genres in Salt Lake. I’ve always felt in mighty company in my town. Check out S.L.U.G. (Salt Lake Underground) magazine!

Quickfire session: Alice In Chains or Mad Season?

Zachary: Alice In Chains. All of it. Every album. Sarah: Alice in Chains

Doom or Sludge?

Zachary: Goth. Sarah: Orchestral Doom. hehe

Beer or Wine?

Sarah: I’m a wine woman. Zachary: It is a personal life goal of mine to sample bulbous amounts of every existing variety of both.

Vacation – into the sun or into the “dark”?

Sarah: I need both! Zachary: I also need both. There is no light without dark.

Salt Lake City – best place for….?

Sarah: Being in nature- we have mountains, forests, and deserts of stunning beauty.

Best SLC band ever?

Zachary: The Otolith Sarah: Aww shux

Best post-metal band ever….?

Sarah: Got an eternal soft spot in my heart for Red Sparowes. Zachary: Crippled Black Phoenix, Amenra, Year of No Light. But of course Neurosis hold the crown eternally.

Be sure to check out their album (link below) and our review of it.