An Interview with Super Massive Black Holes

Super Massive Black Holes is the kind of band that you just don’t hear every day. They mix several elements into their brand of heavily technical, progressive and experimental metal, culminating in a really weird yet cohesive mixture. The band claims that they keep all the stuff that most bands do away with in the writing process.

Tell me a little bit about the band. How did you eventually go from writing music in Chaos Logic to an “anything goes” style in Super Massive Black Holes?

I was never the main writer in Chaos Logic. I wrote one full song and a handful of parts that made it into other songs, but Dan and James did the bulk of the writing. They were so prolific too, much more than I could ever be. I was in that band for only a year and we had like three-plus hours of original prog/death material. That’s crazy to me. As for Super Massive Black Holes, I feel like every metal musician writes parts that aren’t metal, but they just throw em out because they don’t fit in the metal box. We keep that shit and use it.

Explain the recording process for the album. How long did it take to write and record the album and what was the atmosphere like during the recording process? Did you run into any hang-ups along the way?

We’ve got a huge basement at our disposal with a couple really weird little rooms that work great for isolation booths for guitar and vocals. Then there’s a huge room that works really great for drums and in my opinion has a better overall room sound than any place I’ve been in so far. It’s no small bit of luck that I ended up living where I am and it made the whole process really easy. We’re all really busy with various other aspects in our lives, so having our recording studio and jam space at our disposal at any time set up and ready to rock, was a huge factor in getting great sounds and takes. The drums were recorded first in May 2013 and we ended up with a sub-par sound. Takes were good, but the sound was so… bleh. So in July we re-tracked and made sure everything was just right, and I think it turned out great. I’m really happy with the sounds on this album, but I’ll admit; going in I wasn’t really sure what to do to get the best sound for us. There are all kinds of different moods and levels of intensities on this record and it was a challenge finding an overall sound that worked with everything and didn’t sound drastically different going from style to style.

You managed to produce everything out of pocket in a completely DIY style. Do you think that this could be where music is going as technology advances and more people are able to record and mix their music at home without the use of a major studio?

I think it’s already there, man. Gorguts, Ulcerate, Dysrhythmia, Pomegranate Tiger, Cloudkicker, Plini – all of these bands have put out huge self-produced releases in the last year or so, some even on major labels. I think it’s a charming add-on when a band produces their own music and does it well. Only the band truly knows the music and what parts to accentuate and how the instruments should sound. When it’s done well, I think it puts the album in a whole new frame. In my opinion Subsume by Cloudkicker has the perfect production for the music. It’s muddy and things clash sometimes, but it’s got character and I just don’t think it would be quite as good with crystal clear production.

Super Massive Black Holes - Calculations of the Ancients

Did you know in the beginning that Calculations Of The Ancients was going to be as heavily varied an album as it is? What bands and albums do you think may have helped to inspire it?

All the bands I listed before with the addition of Decapitated, Gentle Giant, Virus, Tribal Tech, Avishai Cohen, The Aristocrats and tons of others. We could probably fill pages with all of our influences. We just really love awesome, complex and/or emotive music in all its forms. The goal was just to create some whacky music that we really loved and I feel like we’ve done that.

What made you want to play music in the first place, and what do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t playing music?

Certainly a tough question. I’ve been playing guitar since I was eight and writing since I was nine, so it’s always been a part of me. I’d probably be hating life right now if I didn’t have it. Sometimes I think about what it’d be like if I got a hand injury or something and couldn’t play. It’s fucking scary to me, but I know it’s all too common in my chosen style, so I try to prepare myself for the reality that I might not always be able to do what I love. Should that happen I would likely focus on the production and design aspects of music.

Let’s talk a little about the concepts on this record. You describe the lyrical matter as scientific theories, whether they are real, fictitious or conspiracy. Could you tell us a bit about some of these scientific theories? And being that I’m a man who loves conspiracy, what are you referring to here?

Well, the conspiracy related tracks are “Dyatlov Pass Incident” and to a lesser extent “Ghosts of Bhopal. The former because it’s about the very mysterious deaths of nine people in the Ural mountains in 1959 and the latter because it’s a tribute to the residents of Bhopal, India where a gas leak caused five-hundred thousand people to be exposed due to negligence on behalf of a major corporation, and so far the court case is still pending almost thirty years later. As for scientific, that word is used pretty loosely here. The songs aren’t exactly physics lectures but we would, for example; take something like the Holographic Principle and relate it to a common human experience, such as projecting a mask to hide your true self. The two concepts can be paralleled and tied together metaphorically.

Do you have any plans to take this on the road? And if so, where can we catch you live?

We’ll be playing live occasionally throughout the year in Canada. It’s pretty hard for an inexperienced band to go travelling too far these days, but if we get some exposure with this record and people start digging it elsewhere, we’d love to play all over.

What do you believe in? Would you consider yourself more a man of spiritual metaphysics, scientific fact or religion? How does this reflect in your music?

I suppose I would call myself a bit of an open-minded sceptic. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that there’s lots of stuff out there that we don’t know about, I mean anyone with a passing interest in theoretical physics understands that there’s evidence to suggest parallel universes, alternate dimensions and all kinds of crazy things. I don’t think it’s wrong to want that stuff to exist, but at the same time it doesn’t really have anything to do with my everyday life. It’s just a really neat idea that affects me physically in no way, so I don’t get too carried away with the details and just enjoy it for what it is. I think that open-mindedness is reflected in our music in the sense that we’ll play anything, as long as we feel it.

Some of these riffs are absolutely insane. I mean, this is Gorguts Obscura level material combined with all sorts of odd weirdness and intrigue like I’ve never heard before. How did you work towards this level of musicianship? I’m sure that not just anyone can pick up a guitar and end up with intricacies like that.

Thanks so much man, I really appreciate that. It’s an honor for our little band to be compared to Gorguts. They’re one of my all-time favorites! This might sound stupid or maybe vain, but throughout my life I’ve never learned other people’s music, mostly because I wanted to develop my own unique style and didn’t want direct influences from other players mixed in. Early on it was because I didn’t feel it was my place to play someone else’s music, though I’m not really sure why; since I’ve never had a problem with someone else playing mine.

As far as the technical side, there are some sloppy notes on this album. We’re not perfect and don’t claim to be. We don’t use a click and all the takes are live and only lightly edited. I think it’s good to be tight, but I think there’s a line that’s getting crossed with how mechanical metal records are sounding lately. Some will disagree, but I feel like it might devolve and get to the point where everyone just records whole albums one note at a time and align them to a grid. At any rate, the intent was to make a pretty raw record without a whole lot of flashy production.

What hobbies do you have outside of playing music? Would you consider yourself a reader, a watcher of films, a gamer perhaps?

I like watching shows and docs more than movies, and I don’t read as much as I used to. I’m a fan of science fiction, fantasy, or anything with an epic scope. Same goes for games, I’m an RPG guy. I also watch a lot of “mature” cartoons like Venture Bros, Archer, Futurama, stuff like that.

Where do you think that civilization is headed in the future? Are you optimistic, pessimistic or realistic?

I’m pretty optimistic. I think the internet has given the common man a way of organizing to the point where dictators are having trouble controlling people the way they used to. All the civil unrest in Egypt and Libya, I bet a big part of that was directly related to facebook and forums and stuff. If not directly, they have a window into the whole world and can see people living happily without fear of oppression and they start to question authority, which is always a good thing in my books. The common man should rule, but because he has no desire to control people, he never will. I don’t think the west has all the answers, but I think there are certain aspects of our culture, for example freedom of choice/speech/union that are basic human rights and everyone should have them.

Thanks for answering my questions and for blowing my mind with a wonderfully complex release.

You are certainly welcome, thanks so much for the great interview. Your questions were awesome and I had a lot of fun answering them!

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