Interviewing Autumns Eyes Slowly: A Conversation with Dan Mitchell
The Best Unsigned Band in Connecticut, Autumns Eyes, just dropped a new full-length album entitled Ending Life Slowly. I definitely left my apartment and flew back to my home state to grill the band’s only member, Dan Mitchell, about the present, the past and the future. The conversation below totally took place over a resplendent dinner of turkey club sandwiches and boxed Shiraz and was in no part conducted via e-mail.
Richter: That title, woo doggy. That’s an old man title right there. Are you feeling old? What does the title mean to you? Where did it come from? The concept—”ending life slowly”—doesn’t seem like something that would’ve occurred to a younger Dan.
Dan: A younger Dan may have opted for something a little more tacky like Benefit of the Death, back when I was obsessed with clever puns for everything I released. I suppose Ending Life Slowly grew in sync with my flourishing cynicism that seems to get stronger as the years fade away. I’m not quite at the “old man yells at cloud” stage, but Im getting there. Give it time.
How long ago did you begin writing this album? Did you have to scramble to make the obligatory Halloween release date?
It started back in 2014 with a couple songs meant to be a quick little EP, but my overindulgent brain got the best of me yet again. I decided to make the greatest album I could possibly write in the history of all things dark and evil. When that didn’t happen, I gave up and decided to just do what I usually do: sit in a basement and try to make sense of the hot garbage that spews from my brain into my instruments.
How—if at all—did the writing process for Ending Life Slowly differ from the previous full-length? Specifically, I’d say the palette of synth sounds is quite different from those you’ve worked with before. Did this change come about consciously or did it just sort of happen?
For the first time in my life I had some money to actually purchase real synth sounds that suited what type of mood I wanted to achieve. I could focus more on how the album felt, versus how it sounded. Getting the right synth sound was imperative to capturing the right atmosphere. It was exciting to finally stop relying on just choirs and strings, and start to inject soundscapes that were a bit more diverse and etherial.
The vocals also sound a bit different this time around. More layered, and a bit deeper. WHY?
I tried to find the sweet spot between hulking Peter Steele vocals and sad My Dying Bride sobbing. Since I’m neither a giant muscle-bound vampire nor a depressed poet who shops at Vladmart, my vocals ended up finding their own niche that suited the music. I also made an attempt to sing within my range. On previous albums, I always ventured into octaves that made me sound like Teddy Ruxpin. Whenever I listen back to those songs I want to vomit. So I stuck with a vocal range that doesn’t require me to use much effort aside from my standard day to day brooding.
On the technical side, how did you achieve these vocal and synth sounds?
Between each album I put a lot of time and work into honing my production skills. I picked up a few tricks that were able to help guide the vocals towards a space that gave them more life. The main vocal for each song was just a single vocal track straight up the center, and I’d record the same part over it (double the vocal) and use chorus on that to make it sound wider. There are parts throughout each song where you will hear harmonies as well. Reverb was a huge help too, as I’ve typically been shy with vocal reverb in the past. This time I bathed myself in it, and it felt good. Like a warm blanket of luscious evil gothy goodness.
Most of the synths came from the East West products, which use a lot of real orchestra instruments sampled into a synthesizer you can use on your computer. I took a lot of time to pick out instruments I liked and tweak them beyond recognition to sound like something unnatural. Instead of reaching into a typical 80s sounding synth library and finding a warm string pad, I took a clarinet section and transformed it with so many effects that it took on a life of its own. There are also many instances where I used sound effects like wind, crickets, and general ambient noises from nature. Many of which I recorded in my own back yard.
Are the lyrics more personal this time around? I mean of course they’re always personal—but it seems like on the new album they are dominated by personal anecdotes rather than fantasy.
The lyrics came from all the conversations I’d have with people that nobody wanted to hear. Every time I’d bring these topics up, people would comment on how depressing it was and change the subject. So I
just ended up putting them into songs. My songs can’t talk back to me, so for better or worse they are stuck with the depressing subject matter.
With each new album—with the exception of Surrender the Fire—there is a more pronounced rock vibe—specifically a gothic rock vibe. What’s that all about? When are you going to go full-blown black eyeliner and write an entire album, with no riffs, about smoking cigarettes alone in your room?
On that day, I will have invested in such tight black turtle neck body suits, they will make Dave Grohl’s Nirvana Unplugged outfit look normal. I suppose I’ve just had enough of the insane speed and technicality that heavy music has been forcing down my throat lately. I miss the days when you could headbang without a calculator.
In the past you’ve expressed weariness with extreme metal elements like harsh vocals and blastbeats. Your previous album contained none of these. Yet the vokills have come back on Ending Life Slowly. Do you feel obligated to go harsh, or do you let the music dictate what you do—even if you really don’t want to?
Blastbeats have become the techno of metal music for me personally. They have their place, but often come off lazy. If a drummer can’t come up with something clever, they can always rely on the tried and
true blastbeat to get them through the song. Funny how when I was younger I absolutely loved them. The older I get, the more I turn into that guy who says “Now that there AC/DC has some drum grooves I can get behind!”
As for the vocals, I have nothing against screaming into a microphone. I love it. It’s therapeutic in a sadistic way, but it’s messy. If you saw my desk where I recorded the screams, it was covered in spit. Aside from that, it really takes a toll to get those guttural growls out. There were also many instances when you’d hear delivery people come to the door. One time a UPS guy came up the steps which are right next to the window where I record. I was screaming my fifth take of “…the scabs of life infected all that was learned…” and you could see the silhouette of him leaning into the window, perhaps in an attempt to make sure nobody was being dismembered. Since that moment he no longer leaves packages at the door, and opts for the garage instead.
How did Autumns Eyes come into existence? Were you ever involved in any other projects? (Details, please.)
Other projects had always come and gone over the years. I played in a band who painted their faces with highlighters and performed under black lights on stage. I had other moments with friends who would
spend the practice playing “Stars” by Hum for hours on end. There were several attempts at locking down something tangible that could be used to entertain folks who favored the heavier side of music, but nothing ever developed beyond that.
Autumns Eyes started back in 1998, when I asked for a drum set for Christmas but ended up getting a four track recorder instead. The four track sat around for a year, collecting dust, until the day I decided to start messing around with a guitar. A few weeks later, I had a couple songs under my belt. I didn’t use the name Autumns Eyes though, I used a much more sinister name. A name so evil it didn’t even belong in the dictionary. Catastropha. It was a play on the word “cat”, because I love cats. Not really, but anyways, the name quickly changed after the first couple times processing people’s laughter when I told them the name. At first it was changed to Tortured Horror Choir, which was also THC for short–a subtle nod to my prior love of the devil’s lettuce. Eventually I wrote a song named “Autumns Eyes” and loved the title so much I used it for my band name.
Is it lonely being in a one-man band? Do your eyes grow misty when you look at other bands with upwards of two members?
Thats why I do it, so the loneliness feeds the music! I still think Autumns Eyes should go on tour with just me and a tape player. When the crowd silences and awaits that first huge bang from the band, I hit the play button and get ready for the wave of applause. By applause, I mean boos.
Tell us how you’ve managed to keep this one-man project afloat—and to build a fan-base—when you’ve never played a single live show.
I’ve never released a CD either, isn’t that strange? What the hell was I thinking? All digital releases. No touring. No CDs. No vinyl. No ultra kvlt cassette tape releases. Looking back, I’d say it seems a bit stupid if the overall goal was financial success and fame. I’ve never had those in my foresight though, and have always just done things according to how they happen. If I felt like doing a black metal inspired album, I’d record it, and release it for whoever else wanted to hear it. Not until recent years have I become involved in promoting the music on a much more serious level. I suppose that comes from a love for creativity, and sharing it with the world. I’m not motivated by dreams of fame and fortune, but by the off chance someone else out there might enjoy the music as much as I did making it.
Do you want to talk about your merch line and your bizarre harem of clothing models or…?
Ahh yes, the Autumns Eves models. How clever a name, right? It’s not EYES, it’s EVES, because of Eve…it’s a…it’s models…and they’re girls…so Eve…yeah. No, I don’t do that anymore. It worked back in the day to sell shirts and promote the music, but it got to the point where too many people were contacting me asking to see the girls naked. Many times people are under the impression that if a girl shows some skin, it’s an open invitation to all things sadistic and sexual. That wasn’t something I wanted to deal with as a musician. Not to mention so many guys didn’t even know it stemmed from a band, and were contacting me thinking I was one of the models. I still have nightmares about some of the things they wanted to do to me.
I’d be totally willing to publish those lewd messages if you still have any of them…
What about the videos they sent where they lip-sync to “Love Will Tear Us Apart” while wearing nothing but a long black wig and a pumpkin?
Uh…yes. I’d be very into that–for anthropological purposes. In the meantime, what’s your favorite metal riff of all time?
Most definitely the main riff from “I’m Broken” by Pantera. It’s the one riff that causes me to crave mayhem every time I hear it. Not the band Mayhem. Just mayhem in general. That would be strange if a Pantera riff made me crave the band Mayhem. Only Michael Bolton‘s music has the ability to do that.
Moving on: If an Autumns Eyes album falls in the forest and there are no Jack O’ Lanterns on the cover—is it still goth?
I was thinking about going super underground and using carved turnips on the next record. Thoughts?
I like it. You could call the album…uh…Turnip the…um…never mind. Obligatory final question: What’s next for Autumns Eyes?
Well if I can come up with an idea that doesn’t involve goth girls walking through the woods, perhaps another music video.