19 Oct 2022 - Thorsten
The Otolith is one of these bands that have a burden on their chest right from the start, because they are the Phoenix coming out of the ashes of a famous band – SubRosa. However, the Otolith is more than just a prolonging of the former band and Folium Limina turned out to be one of THE records of the year! So, we had to get this interview with them!
We are more than happy to present you with this detailed interview with 3/5 of The Otolith. Sarah, Levi and Matt took their time to sit down and answer these questions which deal with how the band got together, what else they have been doing lately, how the songs were conceived, why Andy doesn’t sing or which concoctions Sarah and Kim are brewing, or which track they would like to cover next. By the way, if you haven’t done so – check out Gene’s review of their full-length debut!
Now first, of all, the sound of the new record – it is a wonderful amalgam of what we expected and what people could not guess you would come up with. Is the band a refreshment of what you did before or is it a new-found symbiosis in a completely new line-up?
Levi Both, really. We’re a metal band that has female vocals and violins, same as SubRosa, so there will always be comparisons and similarities there, but our song writing approach is definity more different in The Otolith than it was in SubRosa.
Fans have been waiting for music by The Otolith ever since 2019 – why did you keep us waiting so long? Was it all the stupid pandemic’s fault?
Levi Supply chain issues 100%. We recorded it in April 2021 and due to issues beyond any of our control, it got pushed back until now.
You have surely done some other things since then – Sarah got Asphodel Wine, Andy did some thing with Dana in Insect Ark, did we miss anybody else’s other projects?
Levi Andy is doing things with his band, Done, and Matt and I recently started jamming with our old band, Huldra, again.
And please illuminate us – what is the Otolith? Is it really a reference to the bone in the inner ear of fish that grows each year? Or is it simply a pun on “monolith”? What is it?
Levi Yes, it is a reference to the structure in ears. Kim presented the name when we were trying to figure out a name for the band and everyone agreed that it worked.
Now, Matt is the new kid on the rock – how did you join these four wanderers in sound? What have you done before?
Levi Matt and I played in a band called Huldra for multiple years together and he also currently plays in Visigoth. Initially we were wanting to keep The Otolith just a four piece because we liked the dynamic of just us playing together, but when we started getting show offers and thinking about how we would pull off playing the album live, we realized we needed a dedicated bass player. Matt was my first choice because we have played music together for years and he’s a great bassist and person.
Matt Levi and I played in a band called Huldra together for several years. That band broke up, but Levi was playing bass in SubRosa and we kept in touch despite our musical endeavors not quite crossing paths. I had obviously been a fan of SubRosa while they were still doing their thing, so knew Kim amd Sarah from that. Andy is also a local legend that engineers tons of bands in Salt Lake and the surrounding areas, and our paths have crossed numerous times in that context. Levi reached out initially to see if I’d be available to play bass for The Otolith’s first live show and it was pretty much a no-brainer to make music with such a talented group of people. We had a few practices and played that show, then they asked me if I wanted to join in full-time – also pretty much a no-brainer. I’ve been playing in bands since I was a teenager, but as far as bands that have recorded music/played any amount of live shows, that would be Huldra, where I played bass and did vocals, and Visigoth, where I play bass.
Let’s talk about the songwriting process for your six songs – is there a democratic structure within the band or is there a clear hierarchy with someone developing the stuff and the others “just” adding tidbits?
Levi More of a democratic structure. I ended up contributing most of the music and Sarah most of the lyrics to this album as I just ended up having a lot of material laying around and Sarah has a way with words that maybe the rest of us don’t, but we all contribute ideas and feedback in the songwriting process and we keep what we all end up liking and agreeing upon.
Were you aware of the expectations connected with new music from the core four members who already were together in SubRosa? I mean, surely you know how much that band means to a lot of people?
Levi We were absolutely aware. It was a point of discussion from day one. We even discussed playing something completely different musically than SubRosa so we wouldn’t get compared to what we all did in that band because we loved that band so much and we know that our fans did too. After several practices we realized that we still wanted to play the heavy Doom style music we’ve been playing and that our writing process and playing in The Otolith was different enough to stand on its own merit even if it would be similar on paper.
Was it clear from the moment SubRosa went into hiatus, that the four of you wanted to keep on writing and making music together?
Levi No, not really. At least not for the four of us. SubRosa split in 2019 and Kim, Sarah, and Andy were talking about still playing music together in some form or another right when it happened, but I actually had already left the band back in 2017 and wasn’t playing music at all at the time. After I quit SubRosa, I sold off all of my gear except one acoustic guitar and I had not planned to ever play in a band again.
Kim and I randomly jammed at her house one day a while after SubRosa split and we decided that we liked what we were jamming on enough to hit up Sarah and Andy and see if they wanted to jam too. Spoiler alert: They did.
”Bone Dust” had already been written and recorded by those three, and is the version that ended up on the Women of Doom album, but we ended up reworking that song and started working on new material in the first several jam sessions. After that we decided to move forward as The Otolith.
Now let’s talk about the music on Folium Limina and first of all a compliment – it is one of the best I heard all year long! Is the music for you more Gothic or Doom?
Levi Thank you! I would personally label it Doom or maybe Post-Metal if I had to choose a sub-genre.
Could you define what Doom is to you? What is Gothic?
Sarah I think doom means something a little different to everyone, so I will just say what it means to me. For me, it’s a way to express deep anguish, fear, and anger I feel about the trajectory society is on, to give warning, but ultimately to shine a light on ephemeral moments of joy and beauty and a refusal to give in to despair or to give up.
Gothic also means different things to different people. For me, it is a micro-cosmos, its own universe of dark beauty made of music, film, books, visual art, architecture, fashion, interior design, and attitude. I’m a goth kid at heart.
Could you give us one or two examples for perfect Doom records? And also for some good Gothic or other records that still take your breath away to this day?
Sarah It’s so hard to choose! For doom I’d say Agalloch’s The Mantle, My Dying Bride’s Turn Loose the Swans - (which could be argued as a goth album as well), and Yob’s Clearing the Path to Ascend. Some goth records that hold up for me are Switchblade Symphony’s Serpentine Gallery, Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, and of course The Cure’s Disintegration.
Who were your musical heroes growing up and do you see any influence they had on your style of music?
Levi James, Cliff, and Jason from Metallica were huge influences on me when I started playing music. It’s more of their playing technique and live energy that stick with me now rather than their music style. David Gilmour from Pink Floyd and the way he could extract emotion from every note really stuck with me as well.
Later on it changed to Aaron Turner from ISIS/Old Man Gloom, Caleb Scofield from Cave In/Old Man Gloom, and Johannes Persson from Cult of Luna when I started really getting into that style of music in the early 2000s. Their vocals, writing style, and their energy and stage presence while playing live is something that really stuck with me in the early years of me playing this style of music.
Matt Alice In Chains was the first real rock band I listened to as a kid thanks to my sister, so I’d have to say Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley were pretty formative. Once I started getting into heavier music, I really admired folks like Caleb Scofield, Aaron Turner, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Justin Chancellor, and Dan Briggs - they’re all incredibly talented musicians that bring so much to the bands they play in, and in bands that have fundamentally shaped the way I listen to/play music since the first time I heard them.
The music of course has some very gloomy elements, naturally, as two (electric) violins are the key instruments here – but it never sounds outdated yet rather modern. Was that a clear intention?
Levi The element of the violins is not something we ever consciously think about. We just happen to have two electric violinists that love to experiment with pedals and sounds and we use that as we would any other instrument. I’ve actually written guitar parts that ended up as violins parts and Kim and Sarah wrote violin parts that ended up as guitar parts on the album. We just end up going with what works and sounds the best to us.
The sound is also a wonderful mix of images of the USA – one imagines a city like Salt Lake City (or Denver to take another example) but never a Moloch like NYC or LA; one feels the earth beneath your feet and it’s dry not humid, so basically, the record sounds like the region where it comes from. How much does your hometown and the whole state influence your songwriting?
Levi I don’t think we consciously think about that aspect. As in we don’t think “Let’s write a song that sounds like we’re in some desolate desert mountains.” Maybe subconsciously the music comes out that way at times because that’s who we are and how we grew up, perhaps, but we have some amazing bands here in Salt Lake that are as chaotic as a big city on New Year’s Eve, so I think It’s more of a personal thing for us.
How much are you part of “the SLC scene”?
Levi The Otolith plays a few local shows a year and has a great turn out whenever we play it seems like for which we are very grateful. On a personal level, we probably aren’t as much of a part of it as we used to be. Three of us are parents and we’re all busy with our jobs so we don’t get out to shows very often anymore. We would love to get out and be part of the scene more as we have some amazing friends and that play in a lot of good bands, but life happens.
Nerd – question in between: Where did you take the vocal sample for “Bone Dust” from?
Levi From the Charlie Chaplin movie The Great Dictator
If comparing the record it to movies – I think the record is more like a rougher version of Interview with the Vampire than a more modern version of Dracula – would you agree with that?
Sarah I would take both of those comparisons with relish! I think it has moments where it’s closer to Dracula, and some moments where it’s closer to Interview with a Vampire.
The record is very elegant – and yet crushingly heavy. Is it heavy darkness or elegant light for you?
Levi Both, really. We touch on a few topics on this album, but there are aspects of light and dark in both the music and lyrics throughout. A lot of the feelings and emotions we had surrounding the pandemic, the lockdown, and what was happening in our lives in general in that time period ended up working their way into the writing process.
About the vocal duties – first of all, why is Andy the only “non-vocalist” on the record? ;-) And Levi – you are interspersing some songs with some of the most earth-shattering growls heard in a long time. Have the earthquake detectors collapsed?
Levi Ha, Andy doesn’t consider himself a vocalist. I think I remember him saying he’d rather leave it to the professionals. Sarah and Kim being the professionals.
And thank you. I honestly don’t consider myself a vocalist. I consider myself a guitarist/bassist that just happens to be able to scream into a mic and wasn’t really planning on doing much vocally in this band, but after the very firm encouragement from the rest of the band after I laid down the vocals that I wrote for “Dispirit”, I ended up recording vocals wherever Sarah wanted me to for the rest of it. You can thank them for the rest of my screaming on the album.
But jokes aside, I love the combination of the many different voices on the record, is it always clear from the start who does what part, cause I read that Matt also delivered some vocals?
Levi The vocal duties are more or less defined with Sarah being the lead vocalist/lyricist and Kim and I adding vocals wherever it is appropriate. Matt joined after the album was already done, so he didn’t contribute any recorded vocals, but he has been adding vocals live and will add recorded vocals from here on out where appropriate.
Would you say that The Otolith is a result of a very deep friendship? Or did it strengthen your bond even further (after the end of SubRosa)?
Levi Again, both. After leaving SubRosa and quitting music, I wouldn’t have come back to playing music with any other group of people. I also know for a fact that us playing music together helped each of us get us through the lockdown in more ways than one and we all consider ourselves a family.
You release the new record through Blues Funeral but there will surely have been several other offers – why this wonderful label?
Levi Because Jadd with Blues Funeral is a great guy, easy to work with, and he trusted us to do whatever we wanted musically which was important for us with this being our first full release since forming the band.
I would be interested in knowing if there were any particular (musical) influences for the tracks? Maybe also influences outside the musical realm?
Levi I don’t think we had any specific musical influences when we were writing this album. Other influences would be what we were all going through in 2020 when we wrote the album. It creeps into the music and lyrics for sure. On a personal level, the only song that I wrote all the lyrics to was “Dispirit” and that was musically and lyrically influenced by my wife’s passing in 2016 and what it felt like for me to go through that in the years after.
Kim and Sarah – how much do you still practice your craft nowadays?
Sarah Kim and I share passion for a few different crafts, music chief among them. As far as crafting herbal concoctions and attempting communication with unseen forces, it will always be a part of my life.
You gave us a wonderful rendition of the Alice in Chains classic “Would?” - now if you ever did a covers record and each member gets to decide on one track – who would choose what?
Levi I would love to do more covers and I had a lot of fun recording ”Would?”. I would do ”Nights In White Satin” by The Moody Blues.
Sarah ”Long Snake Moan” by PJ Harvey
And now vice versa – you can choose one artist to cover a track by your band? Who should do which track?
Levi Author and Punisher: Whatever track he wanted to.
Matt Perturbator/Final Light: ”Sing No Coda”
Sarah – Junius: ”Andromeda’s Wing”
Now onto our infamous quickfire round:
Eagle Twin or The Iceburn Collective?
Levi Eagle Twin
Matt Eagle Twin
Sarah Eagle Twin
Neurosis or Paradise Lost?
Roadburn or Psycho Las Vegas?
Levi Both. Don’t make me choose between two amazings fest that we’ve played and loved.
Sarah I can’t choose either. This is impossible.
Wine or Beer?
Levi A dry red wine.
Matt wine, especially if it’s cabernet sauvignon.
Sarah A dry tempranillo red wine. Or really just any red wine, because WINE.
Touring or Writing?
Sarah This is like dark and light, good and evil, cold and hot. You cannot have one without the other, or you’ll get all lopsided and fall over.
Edgar Allan Poe or Washington Irving?
Alice in Chains or Soundgarden?
Levi Alice in Chains
Matt Alice In Chains
Candlemass or St Vitus?
The Crow or the Raven? (and yes, I know that those are a movie vs a poem)
Matt The Raven
Sarah The Raven
Blade or From Dusk Till Dawn?
Matt From Dusk Till Dawn
Sarah From Dusk Till Dawn
Prague or Paris?
Books – Frankenstein or Jekyll & Hyde?
Thank you for taking the time and talking with us, all the best for the record release and we hope to see you soon on European stages again.