, May 31st, 2013 06:53
Gravenhurst's Nick Talbot talks to his fellow Bristolians about their new album of "smashing cups" rock, Centurionaut
Photograph courtesy of Gavin Mecaniques
ANTA are a heavyweight instrumental rock quartet from Bristol. Formed in 2010, their live exegesis on low end theory quickly earned them attention, and the addition last year of a local guitar legend had the widely-expected effect of pushing them up a gear, transcending their doom roots and approaching something genuinely chimerical.
Their new album Centurionaut appeals to the inner headphone space cadet and outer sweaty rock ogre equally. Through celestial drones and echolocations it explores sonic spaces, rhythmic symmetry and the spiritual singularity that can only be reached via the repeated application of an unabashedly muscular riff. Released on their own Thrones & Dominions imprint, an inspired promotional campaign has seen them throwing their work out to remixers such as Dälek, Fairhorns and Antoni Maiovvi (have a listen to the end results of the first two below), and releasing the single 'Dolmen' with a video of a rehearsal filmed on their four camera phones; the unexpectedly polished results offer the uninitiated a thrilling glimpse of their live prowess.
The album is on pre-sale from the label here and the first fifty orders get entered into a draw to win two tickets to ArcTanGent Festival in August, where ANTA's onward march can be experienced in full effect. Have a listen to Centurionaut remixes below:
We spoke to drum and cymbalist James King and synth-neuromancer Alex Bertram-Powell about progress, pictorial album reviews and running their own label.
You make music that many Germans would be comfortable calling 'Kosmische', but many would be equally comfortable calling progressive rock. Like many British bands you avoid that term in your press releases; there are all sorts of reasons for doing that - what are yours?
James King: It’s not so much about avoiding the term “progressive rock” as avoiding the (largely incorrect) idea that prog is a drawn-out and pompous affair with an inclination to favour 'wacky' instrumentation and technically-challenging concepts, over ideas and substance. Which is annoying, as I have loads of prog records, and none of them match that description, but I think we’re all aware that people still associate “prog” with tediousness and self-importance. We don’t want to alienate anyone from listening to us on the basis of a label, we have an inclusive attitude to what we do and we like to think that it’s accessible and immediate as much as it is anything else.
Alex Bertram-Powell: Your standard rock instrumentation is always a great formula for exciting, original music. If we succeed at that then what it’s called doesn’t really matter. “Inclusive” is right - we’re all at times the type to scrutinise some monument to aural ingenuity, or at times to get pissed and laugh along to amazing bands in tiny rooms. That’s who we are and who we’re making music for. On balance, the bit about pissed people in tiny rooms is more applicable...
There's a coherent aesthetic running across your song titles and artwork; I wonder the degree to which this feeds into the music. People don't generally ask instrumental bands what their songs are about while many classical compositions utilise themes and are 'about' something. How about ANTA?
JK: I’m not aware that the music is about anything other than the four of us playing loud riffs in a dark room. We have a lot of fun doing that, and I hope that comes across, and beyond that I really don’t know.
AB-P: Yeah. If there are themes and concepts there, they arise after the fact. We have songs with titles like ‘Clock Turret Khan’ which I’d love to pretend is a tribute to a mecha-warrior-king and beef up our prog credentials, but in truth we just named them after the mental images that came up. Thankfully it’s not just us - we’ve had some “unconventional” reviews. One is a piece of short fiction, another is a picture of Edgar Allan Poe dancing with ravens in space. Someone wrote to tell us his three year-old son had said, “it sounds like soldiers fighting, smashing all the cups and then fighting monsters”. Job done. We aren’t setting out to capture particular concepts but I’m ecstatic that we’ve made something that gets people daydreaming.
This album sees the addition of Stephen Kerrison. He's a bit of a guitar legend in Bristol - when he returned after a break I heard at least five bands made formal offers to him, but the news that he'd joined ANTA met with murmurs of approval. You've stepped up a gear sonically; how much is this the Kerrison effect and how much would have happened anyway?
AB-P: I suppose it’s not too late to change the name of the band to The Kerrison Effect'. Guitar legend is right, Steve’s a fantastic writer, player, performer... when our original guitarist [Pete Dickens of Geisha & Don Bear] had to bow out there was a feeling among us that only Steve would do. His effect on the music is entangled with that second-album maturation, and so it’s hard to tell. But if we sound like we’ve got a brilliant guitarist who loves playing loud, outrageous riffs, it’s probably his fault.
JK: I’m going to say it’s all his fault.
You've had interest from labels but decided to put the record out on your own Thrones and Dominions label. What were your reasons?
JK: We had interest from other labels but there were always stumbling blocks. Doing it ourselves meant doing it on our own terms - not in a selfish way, but that realistically, working with a label means working within the often limiting constraints that they have. There are hundreds of tiny labels around nowadays that are run passionately, and brilliantly, by a few people with day jobs, which means they tend to have limited time and resources. They can only manage so many releases per year, and a more expensive release means waiting longer for the funds to become available, etc. We wanted to get quite a fancy package together for the album, and to release it reasonably quickly, and it soon became obvious that the best way was to do it ourselves. It’s also a natural extension of our existing ethos of doing all the recording, production and art ourselves. And in so doing, we’ve joined the list of tiny labels that are run by a few people with full time jobs and no time or money...
AB-P: For gratitude and other reasons, I should say that Geoff Barrow (Portishead/Invada/BEAK>) has been generous with help and support. I play in Geoff’s 2000 AD-inspired project DROKK, and as someone with loads of experience working with great bands at all “levels” his insight is very valuable. He and everyone else we looked to for advice said that if you can, self-releasing is the best option. As James says, we have plenty of skills beyond music, we’re hard-working and organised. If you hand a task off to someone else and later think “I could’ve done that better myself”, then you probably should have.
I found the job of managing and promoting my music quite punishing, even on my bedroom nano-label - it ate into the time I should have been making music. I've always been amazed by bands like The Delgados and Field Music who have the energy to make great records while running great labels. How are you finding it?
JK: Probably a bit early to say at this stage! Although it’s definitely hard work and it certainly helps that there’s four of us. Interesting that you mention “bands”, consisting of several people, making records and running labels, then compare that to yourself as an individual struggling to do the same. I think trying to do all that by yourself would be maddening!
AB-P: “Punishing” resonates. It’s a necessary attitude in self-managing and promoting that this is your job and it must be done. There’s a big lie in creative work that if any aspect of it doesn’t fill you with joy, you’re not cut out for it, which is crap. You have to accept the grind if you’re going to take any job seriously. I’d rather that than pretend a strenuous task was breathing life into me; the knowledge that you’re being honest about your intentions and not bullshitting anyone or doing anything you wouldn’t do given the choice, will keep you going.
ANTA play an album launch show at Cube in Bristol on June 14; for more details head here