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In Extremis

Meditation & Repetition: An Interview With MAKE
Kevin Mccaighy , May 23rd, 2012 10:02

Chapel Hill's purveyors of psychedelic metal epics, MAKE, recently released their debut album Trephine. Kevin McCaighy caught up with the three-piece to discuss how they formed and the themes behind the album

MAKE conjure a sound that is just as experimental as it is rooted in the brutality of sludge/doom. With their resonance emanating from their base of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, guitarist/vocalist Scott Endres, bassist Spencer Lee and drummer Matt Stevenson have recently released a remarkable debut album that is already garnering a considerable volume of attention within underground circles.

Released on the band's own Black Iron Records, Trephine is a many-limbed hydra of an album, stretching in a number of different directions at once. It possesses an epic scale and ambition which places it close to the post-rock leaning territories of Grails and Minsk, even as its rawest elements delve towards doom’s bottomless pit, and was heralded in Toby Cook’s Columnus Metallicus as “a totally unexpected post-triumph”.

The Quietus caught up with the band to learn about their origins, inspirations and the limitations of sub-genres.

How did you first come together and decide to form MAKE?

Scott Endres: I had run into an old friend of mine who had just started playing with a band called Systems. He mentioned that he and the bass player were looking to do something slower with more doom and drone, which was exactly the sort of thing Matt and I were trying to put together.

How easy was it for you to find the right label to release this debut?

SE: Not very, seeing as we’re still unsigned! Although just recently, we were approached by somebody about pressing Trephine onto vinyl for a new offshoot label he’s getting off the ground - more details about that to come.

What does being on an independent label mean for you as a band? Are you actively looking to move to a major should the opportunity arise?

SE: Black Iron Records was just something I entered into our ASCAP page years back. All it really means is ‘This release has come to you from the shallow depths of our own meagre pockets’.

How well realized do you think the ideas that you’re exploring as a group on Trephine are? What was it about issues such as loss and mortality that provided this spark of creativity?

SE: The lyrical concept mostly came into being after the songs were written, in an attempt to give cohesion to songs which maybe didn’t naturally coalesce on their own. We already had adopted the idea that there would be a loose post-apocalyptic theme to this record. As an ex-English major and sci-fi and fantasy nerd, I had been interested in using pulpy tropes as vehicles for telling our own stories. After the death of one of our peers, somebody who booked shows and tended bar at a place which was very much a second home to us, I started going through a bout of death-anxiety. I felt I needed to meditate on my own anxiety through the music, and let those demons out, which is where the title of the record came from.

Matt Stevenson: The songs were all written before the overall concept of the record was solidified. We only really began to closely examine the flow and thematic cohesion of the music once inside the studio, so by that time there was only so much that could be done in terms of rearranging. But we've learned from that experience and with our new material we are taking a much more deliberate approach in the hopes of ensuring that the music is a well-formed and meaningful expression of the themes we are working with.

Spencer Lee: From the beginning of writing Trephine I had been grappling psychologically with the notion of being handed a world that is being slowly killed by the people on it. Musically I always had this in mind, but it took a much more definite shape when Scott and I got together, storyboarded, combined our ideas, and wrote the actual lyrics. The ideas are realized in themselves, but it took us a while to really nail them down, and it happened in a strange order. However, the record we’re currently working on is much more deliberate.

There is a very definite anthemic quality to the songwriting on Trephine: the songs have a very spare and open feel to them. How did the album coalesce in terms of your songwriting processes?

SE: That’s a little tricky for me to answer for since it was written in two different phases. We started as a four piece and once we became three there weren’t many songs we could perform live. We had to figure out a way to change our approach while maintaining what we believed was the core of the band’s collective personality. So what you hear on Trephine is a collection of a few songs which were written as a four piece and the rest written in the interim before we could play out again. Most of the musical ideas came as a direct result of the limitations we now had as a three piece. What’s most insane about this to me is how this setback, instead of crippling us, ended up really giving a boost in defining our writing style, which hopefully becomes evident as we move on.

You’ve been described as “progressive sludge doom”. Is that an accurate term or are there others that you feel are more relevant?

SE: I have to be honest with you: I’m fairly naïve when it comes to all these meta and sub-genre tags for a lot of music. People keep saying ‘post-metal’ and I’m not really sure what it even means. I saw an interview with [ASVA’s] Stuart Dahlquist somewhere, and he’s mentioning Talk Talk as a major reference point. Talk Talk are considered ‘post rock’ so is ASVA post-metal? Or is it just anything that has psychedelic bits mixed with heavy riffs? The only thing I pay much mind to is if something feels right. Does it feel like a MAKE song or does it sound like somebody else? That’s the only thing I care about. Let people place us on whatever shelf they like. As long as they’re listening.

SL: Personally, if someone described a band that I hadn’t heard as ‘progressive sludge-doom’ to me, my first thought wouldn’t be “Hey, that band probably sounds like us!”  I usually call us ‘psych-doom’ or something along those lines to folks who are curious and haven’t heard us. 

SE: If fans of sludge and doom are excited about our material that’s fantastic, but I hope it doesn’t end there. My own relationship with music really has nothing to do with genres. It’s about ‘is that new album by that person or group of people any good? Is there something both viscerally and cerebrally I can sink my teeth into?’ The last thing I want to do is relegate us to the confines or restrictions of some specific genre. We’ve already begun exploring new themes, new movements within songs, new approaches. We’ll always be metal, but I don’t want to adhere to anything more specific than that. All I want to offer the world of music is what I myself expect from it, something which moves and excites people.

MS: Having only been exposed to sludge and doom somewhat recently, the two genres offered me a starting point for exploring the realms of music existing beyond major radio stations. Ever since, I've been chasing after the feeling of discovering something completely alien to what I understand. We're part of a continuing conversation, so it is a nice thought that, if nothing else, our expressions as a band might invite others into the discussion.

SL: I’m really excited about how much metal has progressed as an art form in the 21st century. The last 6 or 8 years especially have really seen a revitalisation of the genre in terms of its experimental nature. If metal as a genre hadn’t seen this recent revitalisation, who knows what kind of band we would be, or whether we would be a band at all. As far as what we can give back, hopefully it’s something unique that resonates with people.

What hopes and aspirations do you have for yourselves as band?

SE: To be perpetually moving forward creatively, hallenging peoples’ expectations, progressing on the meditation of repetition, and of course keeping it fun. It’s very easy to forget that last part. Beyond that, getting signed to a label which can afford us the luxury of keeping our pay cheques in the bank would also be nice.