.:.LIONS TO LEECHES.:.
An Interview with Jason William Walton
by Conor Fynes
I, like many others, was grieved the unforeseen disbanding of Agalloch last year. The significance of that band had a twofold significance to me. In addition to creating some of the finest records in American metal, they helped in part to redefine my concept of genre. The blend of styles on an Agalloch album was always fluid and organic; they were proof that drawing upon heavily codified subsets like black metal, doom, or neofolk need not come with the cost of limiting yourself to one set of rules, if rules were needed at all.
It was never surprising to hear that same vanguard mentality in the Agalloch members’ other projects as well; peeling back that initial surface layer, it’s quickly apparent how potent their avant-garde motivations truly are. In particular, Jason William Walton has been a one-man avant-metal cottage industry, and a quality one at that. Yeast Mother: An Electroacoustic Mass is the debut EP of Walton’s latest project, Snares of Sixes. It is the culmination of a five-year effort that proves to be even more heady and complex than his past work as Self Spiller. Agalloch’s premature retirement was a heavy loss, but between this and the announcement of Khôrada, it didn’t take long for flowers to bloom upon its grave.
Heathen Harvest: Many will know you already for your work in Agalloch and the recently founded Khôrada; fans with an inkling for the experimental may even know you for (among others) Sculptured and Subterranean Masquerade, not to mention your other pet project Self Spiller. However, this may be the first many are ever hearing of Snares of Sixes. Therefore, I’ll give you the opening duties: Could you introduce and describe Snares of Sixes in brief terms?
Jason Walton: Snares of Sixes is an entirely new beast, so yes, it is very likely that people are unfamiliar with it. Much like many of my other projects, Snares of Sixes is an experiment—an experiment in shoving square pegs into round holes and forcing puzzle pieces together. I am thrilled and engaged when I am exposed to art that I don’t understand, when I can’t comprehend how it is made or what the intention is. Snares of Sixes strives for that incomprehension, but that is not the entirety of my goal.
HH: What was the original idea behind this project? Is there a specific incident or day you can recall?
JW: I have a very bad habit of writing music with a project or band in mind, instead of letting the music tell me where it belongs. When writing for Self Spiller’s Worms in the Keys record, I was writing it for Especially Likely Sloth. After a number of years, and as the material progressed, I realized that it did not fit the E.L.S. name. The same thing happened with Snares of sixes. This album was intended to be for E.L.S., but again, as the material began to take shape, the music told me that this is not E.L.S., this is not Self Spiller, this is Snares of Sixes. The music was at its infancy highly inspired by the band Mad Love, and I wanted to work with synths and MIDI more than I have in the past. At first go, the opening track “Urine Hive” was rather poppy and catchy, but I was not satisfied with that and had to push myself. So, there was no real “original idea” behind this project other than writing music that challenges me.
HH: What are your core influences with regards to bands or composers?
JW: Of course I can’t make music completely devoid of outside influences, yet that is usually my goal. Mr. Bungle‘s Disco Volante is a constant influence on me, and aside from that I was quite conscious of works by John Oswald, John Cage, Pierre Henry, Schloss Tegal, Clipping, Mad Love, Peter Tosh, Germs, and Sutekh Hexen. Snares of Sixes works much like a painting. I start with a foundational song, many others and myself add to this song, and then I spend years adding other paints and colors, blending whites with reds, painting over certain hues and then adding more. Many artists inform these decisions, but the aforementioned were in the forefront of my mind during this time.
HH: Describe the intended experience that Snares of Sixes means to invoke for its listeners.
JW: I project no intent upon the listener. Yeast Mother is meant to be enjoyed if you have the ear for it, and perhaps expand one’s musical palette, but nothing more. It is not meant to be enjoyed on headphones, it is not meant to be listened to by candlelight, it is not meant to disturb anyone. It is purely and simply the record I wanted to make at this point in time.
HH: Certain comparisons will undoubtedly be drawn between Snares of Sixes and your other avant-garde ensemble project Self Spiller. How are the two projects distinct in your eyes?
JW: Snares of Sixes is much more mature and aggressive. I understand there are many similarities between the two—the two bands even share many band members—but what it really came down to is that Yeast Mother did not feel like Self Spiller to me. I have a sophomore record mapped out for Self Spiller, and it is nothing like Worms in the Keys or Yeast Mother. Honestly, though, I think Self Spiller was merely a stepping stone that I needed to get out of my system in order to reach the level of what I wanted to do with Snares of Sixes. It was a learning experience. Even though I have lots of ideas for Self Spiller still, I have even more for Snares of Sixes, and at this point, I can’t see myself doing another Self Spiller record.
HH: As you mentioned, your debut EP is entitled Yeast Mother: An Electroacoustic Mass. First of all, what is the concept behind the album title and the lyrics? Is there a concept or theme at hand here?
JW: A few years ago, I became obsessed with bacteria, yeasts, and the like. I started brewing Kombucha tea. The process fascinated me. At one time, I had six gallons of Kombucha brewing at any given time—typically five gallons and then one extra gallon of a continuous brew. Making a healthy drink made of tea that ferments under a bacterial mat was something I just had to explore. The more I learned about the process, the more enthralling it became. Even to the point where I dreamt of yeast tendrils and universes filled with bacteria. “Yeast Mother” is one of the Chinese translations for Kombucha. As for lyrics, most of them center around these themes. “Urine Hive” is about my fear of this bacteria coagulating my blood and taking over my body, slowly, until I become the bacterial mat, the SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), the Yeast Mother. “The Mother’s Throat” is similar in nature, but entertains the idea of accepting this fate and assimilating, working with the bacteria and yeast, and forming a friendship. Album closer “Retroperistalsis” explores vomiting, and the role in which God can play in this experience. There is also a deep reverence for internal organs on this song.
HH: The five-year development period for this album is longer than many big-budget movies, but I could have imagined as much with such dense material. Did your opinion or approach toward the material change significantly? How do you think it might sound differently if it had been worked on in a concentrated amount of time?
JW: I don’t think it would be possible for me to make a record like this in a shorter time span. My approach and opinion changed many times over the course of making this record. It was an extremely challenging record to write, record, and mix. At times, I felt like I was losing my mind, and I often had to step back and let my ears and mind rest. Failure is a major part of my songwriting process. I cannot afford to be afraid to fail. It is imperative in a situation like this and only leads to bigger and better things, though what I deem as failure on a part forces me to rethink it, tear it down, and build it up again into something better than it originally was. Again, Snares of Sixes is an experiment, and you cannot truly experiment without many failures.
HH: Speaking of time, you’ve commented that this kind of music is best listened to in smaller doses, hence why you released an EP over a full-length. This is a sentiment I agree with in the context of avant-garde metal. Do you think you’ll stick with creating EPs on future Snares of Sixes recordings? Hypothetically, how do you think you would adapt the music and style if you were going for the full-length format?
JW: This is true, but the bigger issue is that I simply could not write anymore music for Yeast Mother. I tried and tried again, but nothing was right. “Urine Hive” was almost cut from the album until, at the last minute, I had a revelation and figured out how to fix a part that had been plaguing me since I started writing the record five years previously. It is not easy writing material like this, and at times it feels like you are running a marathon. In the future it is hard to say, but I highly doubt that I will write another record like Yeast Mother. I never intended for Snares of Sixes to walk one path musically or stylistically.
HH: The list of numerous guests on Yeast Mother reads like a laundry list of art-metal talent; in that sense, it’s much like Self Spiller. Was there a lot of challenge involved in collaborating with so many guests?
JW: Yes, I like collaborating with friends. It opens up the spectrum of colors I have on my palette to choose from. I simply could not do this alone. It is really not that much different than being in a proper band. You need others to make something greater than just yourself. The challenge lies in not stepping on anyone’s toes; however, I always make it very clear that everyone’s parts, including my own, are subject to the delete button if they do not serve the song. The other hard part is at times having a wealth of good material for a part when you simply can’t use everything.
HH: Arguably, the most impressive and challenging aspect of Yeast Mother is its sheer volume of ideas and twists. In avant-garde metal fashion, these twists are often very sporadic. Is there a conscious method and motivation behind the way these ideas are sequenced?
JW: Yes and no. I know what I like, and everything has to strictly adhere to that, but I am also a huge fan of chance within music and composition. Random events must fall within my self-imposed paradigms of taste, but each detail is also meticulously slaved over, no matter how minor or random it may seem.
HH: Now that the EP has been out a while, do you see it any differently? Are there any favourite moments you have on the album?
JW: I haven’t listened to it in full since I approved the master. I will re-listen once I have the finished CD in my hands. My brain honestly can’t take listening to it again for a while. I tend to focus on the little things, and I need some space to look at the bigger picture. “Retroperistalsis” is huge for me. I feel like it encompasses what I wanted to do with this project, and I am very proud of that song. I also really enjoy the intro of “Urine Hive.” The drums on that part make me very pleased. I would also be very remiss if I failed to acknowledge what an honor and how surreal it is for me to be working with Peter Lee of Lawnmower Deth on this record. That is definitely a highlight for me.
HH: While Khôrada has assumed the place of Agalloch for you, Don Anderson, and Aesop Dekker, did Agalloch’s retirement have a significant impact on Snares of Sixes’s development or its prospective future?
JW: That’s hard to say at this point, but Agalloch’s dissolution definitely freed up some time for me to work on Snares of Sixes. Other than that, I guess time will tell.
HH: What are the current plans for future material? Anything live, even?
JW: We are actually about 80% done with a new album. Whether it will be a full-length or an EP at this point is hard to say. I can say that it is drastically different than Yeast Mother, and features a few new members. We are planning on playing live, but we aren’t really sure when that may happen.
HH: Lastly, based on your musical work with Snares of Sixes in particular, would you have any advice or wisdom you would impart to other musicians creating similarly avant-garde art? Are there any techniques in the creative process you feel have helped you most?
JW: Sorry, but no. I don’t. The best thing about art is that you have to figure it out for yourself. You have to learn what works for you. My process is irrelevant to another artist. I guess if I had advice it would be this: Listen, try, fail, repeat. Retain your integrity and never give up—never.