7 Minutes More: An Interview with So Hideous
I was so impressed with So Hideous‘s new album Laurestine that I ran down an interview with guitarist/founder Brandon Cruz. We talked art, films, and genre norms. Press play on Laurestine and check out Cruz’s answers below.
W.: First off, I’d like to say thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I was really looking forward to hearing Laurestine after being absolutely blown away in 2013 when you first dropped Last Poem/First Light, but you really seem to have fleshed out your sound on Laurestine. Did something change in your writing process?
BC: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about these things! We haven’t really altered much in regards to the writing processes in all four of our releases. I think with time and effort your confidence and hopefully the quality of the output increases. A major difference on this outing in comparison to the previous ones was the understanding in the band of the logistical issues of time and finance in working toward this goal, especially in using a larger orchestra. Every previous record ran out of time and money and we planned very meticulously to thankfully avoid that this time.
I read that you compose all of your songs first on piano before adding orchestrations and then finally the metal elements. To my ears, this lends your band a very different sound than most “orchestral” metal bands in that every element sounds like its working as a part of a whole rather than a silly key flourish here or there. Do you think you’ll ever stray away from adding metal
Agreed and thank you. We try to foster a space where both experiences of So Hideous (as a four piece or large orchestral ensemble) can in turn create similar emotional experiences and not simply be “guitar band overdubs a few long bows here and there…” but the shit doesn’t sync. I can absolutely see us straying from adding the “metal” elements insofar as the inclusion of them in our music is not really a big priority anyway. We still love the sound of us playing abrasive things together but we simply write what we enjoy listening to/playing at the time. For me there haven’t been very many metal records in recent years that I’ve revisited with the same passion as other things so in writing future albums it would be disingenuous just to add rock and roll movements or have a “riff quota” simply out of some fear that not including them would be injurious to our “brand”. We do what serves the songs and if that’s distortion and pounding drums on some movements then cool, but we’re not beholden to any idea of what this band “needs” to be.
You’ve said that you write music that is supposed to be cinematic and that Ennio Morricone is one of your favorite film score composers. I have two questions related to that. Who are your favorite current film score composers? Were you blown away by any recent film scores?
For the grand scale films Hans Zimmer and his team are still the pinnacle. That C major chord on the ninety year old organ they used for Interstellar encapsulated every single thing about the vastness and wonder of the unknown they were trying to communicate. For a completely different hue, the brilliant and insanely prolific Max Richter is bringing an intimacy to film and television scores that I’m not accustomed to in major productions. His work on Waltz With Bashir is very minimal and haunting. The work of the late James Horner was a massive presence in my formative years, our songs “Relinquish”and “The True Pierce” probably wouldn’t exist without the Braveheart soundtrack.
Laurestine has an intriguing concept about experiencing the afterlife. The number 7 is a constant motif that recurs throughout the album. Could you expand on that theme and how the number 7 runs throughout it? Is that particular number choice a Biblical allusion, or does it just refer to the idea that we have seven minutes of active brain function when we pass?
The album’s concept spring boarded from the research on the 7 minutes of brain activity after death. The record starts with an arrhythmic heartbeat slowing and the idea was that after it stops our protagonist would find himself in some foreign sensory landscape where memory and dreams collide into this disorienting, time dilated journey to the endgame wherein both the flower and woman, named Laurestine would function as a sort of guide and goad for him to finish it. There are 7 tracks and we’ve liberally applied some odd metered changes of 7/4 and 7/8 to function as a reminder to him that the world he inhabits is both super sensory and unstable…this dream is collapsing so keep moving guy. Then in doing more research you find all the interesting and peculiar associations the number 7 has and lyrically it was really fun to play around with those themes.
If you could get any producer/director to make a film based on the score of Laurestine, who would it be?
Michael Bay. We’d be rich. But if he’s not available then Terrence Malick. Our aesthetic is deeply influenced by The Tree Of Life and The Thin Red Line.
You’ve said in the past that you’d like to try to tour with some version of The First Light Orchestra at some point. Any plans to make that happen?
Special one off shows are more likely… There are always “plans” to make a tour happen but securing the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to bring something of that scale to fruition on a nightly basis for a jaunt that could reach the majority of our listeners is an uphill one…probably why we need Michael Bay.
I was watching updates from your tour with Set and Setting. How was it playing with, in my mind, a band of similar scope and vision?
That was a fun one. The audience for that type of tour understands there will be changes in the dynamics during the set. People aren’t yelling over the quieter parts waiting for the “METAL” thus invalidating half the set. Ultimately, playing with bands like Set and Setting and InAeona was great both stylistically and personally; nice people.
How has it been working with Prosthetic?
Like with any business relationship theres push and pull from both sides but we’re happy to have the platform and team in place to ensure that Laurestine will have the best possible chance to reach the largest possible audience.
In the past, you’ve often been compared to other bands in the so-called “post-black metal” scene. I’ve thought of you as something apart from that genre, but have those comparisons made it more difficult for you to break into the often exclusivist and close-minded black-metal underground?
This is an odd one that we’ve been navigating for quite some time. Even a cursory glance at the majority of the critical review of our work up to this point rarely has any in depth analysis of the material in musical, visual or emotional terms and is primarily focused on what sub category we should be labelled as or what bands we should be mentioned alongside as per what’s relevant to the zeitgeist. When we started in 2008 it was “sounds like <insert era post metal band> with black metal” cause the post metal thing was happening, then in 2011 we released our second ep it was “sounds like <insert screamo band> and <insert atmospheric metal band> mixed” cause both the new “wave” of screamo and cascadian black metal had it big that year. Meanwhile none of those associated acts were particularly influential to So Hideous and there was nary a mention of MONO, Envy or Heaven in Her Arms, who were huge for our sound, till we started giving interviews on the subject. Today it’s this “blackgaze” buzzword nonsense and all the associated bands when in actuality we’ve been chugging along for years honing this sound. I suppose these comparisons are great for the advertisers/PR and if that results in increased awareness of our material than so be it but the truth is we’ve been operating for nearly 8 years on our own volition outside of any formal or informal music “scene” and only care to continue doing as we please for as long as we please.
Could you tell me a little about your [Chris Cruz’s] vocal approach for the album? Despite the fact that you’re screaming, there’s an almost melodic approach that always seems to fit with the more delicate and artistic elements of your music.
So awesome that you picked that up! When Chris and I work to put the lyrics and vocals to the music we usually communicate in both melodic and rhythmic phrasing so even though he’s belting it out, and I mean really belting it and giving the future of his vocal chords to us in the booth, we’ve worked it out together beforehand literally in terms of “La, LAAAA, La_breathe____ la” and we fit our lyrics to the particular phrasing the song calls for.
On that note, I think your artistry is what really sets your band apart from your contemporaries. Do you think there’s a place for art in heavy metal? Are metal fans receptive to more artistic endeavors? Do you think there are any other specific metal bands approaching the genre similarly to you?
Thank you very much. I think there’s a place for “art” with any audience that is willing to do away with any preconceived notions about what “art” entails. We were listening to a lot of Future, particularly DS2 on tour and people would make easy assumptions on it’s validity as “art” based on genre or subject matter, which is absurd. The raw expression is there. The sonic imagination is there. As far as metal listeners are concerned, they’re no strangers to the concept record, extravagant staging or theatricality. I do think there still is an inherent distrust that some people in that community have if a band is outright swinging for the fences or perhaps a certain level of perceived ambition is still met with some derision if it is not very easily stratified but if it’s genuine and the application serves the “art” then I don’t really see what the fuck the big deal is…? Not really metal, but I’ve always felt a kinship with MONO, musically they were my “teachers” as a kid learning how to play guitar and an album like Hymn To The Immortal Wind painted pictures so vivid and sounded every bit like the concepts they wanted to explore. I also very much respect composer Olafur Arnalds and his ability to straddle the worlds of modern minimalism, classical and electronic music pretty much on the same track…dude is nasty.
Are there any works of art or literature that have influenced your approach to music?
We talked a lot about Caravaggio’s works, the composition, use of light/shadow and how they say a lot without being overtly complex or having excessive figures. I have to mention Terrence Malick again, seriously go see The Tree Of Life. Lyrically, Matsuo Basho and Natsume Soseki depict imagery and mystery in prose that completely nailed everything we were looking for stylistically. We started with the Basho worship on To Clasp A Fallen Wish With Broken Fingers, but I think it’s hit the peak on this one here and we may have to start paying his estate royalties…
What conceptual themes would you like to explore in the future?
Enough with death. Birth, life, rhythm and dancing on the next one…and ok…maybe some death to keep it all in perspective.
Anything else you’d like to share? Thanks so much for your time!
Firstly, I have to thank you for the diverse and insightful questions. This was a pleasure. I’d also like to thank all of our listeners and the readers of Toilet Ov Hell. We worked veryhard on Laurestine and are happy to have the opportunity to finally be sharing it with others.
Be sure to follow So Hideous on Facebook and check out the album on Bandcamp.