Return To Constantinople: Ides Of Gemini Interviewed

With their second album, Old World | New Wave, just released, Jonathan Keane caught up with the Californian metal trio to talk about exploring ancient themes, the influence of alchemy and working with Neurosis' label

Photograph courtesy of David Lee Dailey

The brainchild of metal writer-turned-musician J. Bennett and vocalist Sera Timms, once of doom metallers Black Math Horseman, Ides Of Gemini made their first play with a brief EP, The Disruption Writ, several years ago. It was a modest opening salvo for their goth-imbued metal, flecked with hints of doom, recorded with programmed drums and simply posted online. Despite its compactness, the record was enough to capture the attention of Neurot Recordings, the label headed up by none other than Oakland metal luminaries Neurosis. Two years later, they truly made their presence felt with their debut full-length album Constantinople on Neurot, a dreamy walk through chilling and ghostly metal, heavily defined by Timms’ ethereal croon (read our interview with the band from around that album’s release here). Finally joined by drummer Kelly Johnston, they became a fully-formed and realised band.

Now two years on, the group have put out album number two, Old World | New Wave. It’s a record whose foundations go back several years, even before Constantinople, explains Bennett, with ideas and riffs first penned many moons ago rearing their heads at long last. However, in no way do these dirges seem dated, sounding more invigorated and matured than its predecessor. If Constantinople was Ides Of Gemini’s introduction, Old World | New Wave is their statement of intent: nine new hymns, taking in Timms’ lyrical concerns with ancient, historical concepts, exploring the push and pull between traditional and revolutionary or masculinity and femininity, complemented by rich melodies, gloomy post-punk vibes and even faint black metal touches, which Bennett expands upon more. Following the album’s release, we spoke with all three members to dissect what Ides Of Gemini are all about this time around.

You’ve stated before that a lot of the material for Old World | New Wave predates your first album, Constantinople. Why are these songs only emerging now?

J. Bennett: I had a lot, at least as far as the guitar parts and the arrangements go, which is pretty much my area in the band, my duty. I had most of Old World | New Wave, I’d say maybe 70% written and arranged before Constantinople came out. Some of it was after we had recorded Constantinople but my goal was to get everything done, at least for my parts, the guitar and the arrangements, done before Constantinople came out. Pretty much the bulk of it was written after Constantinople was recorded, before it came out.

Constantinople even had re-recordings of songs that first appeared on your first EP. It feels like you have a lot of material backed up.

JB: It’s a matter of perspective. The songs on Disruption Writ, we re-recorded all four of them for Constantinople and there are two main reasons for that. Sera and I recorded Disruption Writ by ourselves before we even had a drummer so those are programmed drums on there. Once we started playing those songs with Kelly, they started taking on a different feel. When Neurot got in touch with us and asked if we wanted to do a record, we thought that the material was strong enough and wanted to redo it with Kelly and bring her into the fold. You want real drums on the album, you know what I mean, so that was the reasoning there.

How does the new album correlate with Constantinople? One of the first songs that jumps out of the track listing is ‘May 22, 1453’, which is the date of the fall of Constantinople. Is there a running concept between the two records?

JB: Well, the last album was called Constantinople and we did another release prior to that, a split 12" vinyl with a band called Vermapyre and there’s a song on that called ‘Constantinople’. The title track is not on the album, which is something I’d never seen done before, which is why I wanted to do that, but it also ties into that story. It’s like the missing link and then what we had happening in Old World | New Wave, the story continues but it’s actually in Constantinople. The things that happen on the album Constantinople, most of them don’t take place there. Everything that’s happening on the new record takes place in Constantinople.

Sera Timms: J came up with the concept in the title, Old World | New Wave. He generally comes up with the titles of the songs and then I sort of colour them. A lot of times his title will come from something but I won’t reference that at all. I’ll just come up with whatever feels right to me, how the title can creatively fit within my own framework.

What can you tell us specifically about the themes explored on Old World | New Wave?

ST: [With] Old World | New Wave, it makes sense to deal with opposites. Generally I’m doing some sort of symbolic psychological themes going on in my lyrics so I thought this would be good to deal with the forces of masculine/feminine, yin/yang, black/white, all that stuff. For the "old world", I decided, it would be represented by the archetype of an emperor figure, which I based on Constantine, so that sort of represented all the – what I call – old world forces of ego, dogma and man’s laws replacing nature’s laws, things that are very structured and rational. Then the "new wave" was more a lunar, feminine consciousness, dealing with things that are more intuitive. The picture I see is like the evolution of one person, like a psychological evolution of one person, represented by the emperor and this internal force of the new wave, lunar consciousness is washing over all of the old structures of that solar consciousness, that masculine, rational consciousness. Eventually one reaches the point of dissolution of opposites so that one can become at peace with both of those sides with themselves.

You mentioned that often the titles provided by J aren’t referenced in your lyrics, but there’s another song title that’s eye-catching, ‘Fememorde’. It refers to politically-driven murders in Germany in the early 1900s, but in the context of Ides Of Gemini, what does this mean?

ST: You’re totally right. That’s where he got that word. He was reading some history book, I don’t remember what it was. He liked the word and I liked the word because feme, feminine and morde is obviously death. I didn’t use any of the original reference to that word at all. That was one where we decided because the word was so cool [laughs] – we were going to use it because it fits so well. A lot of the archetypes that I used for the lunar consciousness are some pretty savage goddess archetypes like Hecate and Kali. ‘Fememorde’ really made sense for that aspect.

Are there any other books and literature that have inspired Ides Of Gemini?

ST: Not so much literature, I would say this is more influenced by alchemy. I deal with the different stages of breakdown in alchemy to essentially reach the philosopher’s stone and then psychological evolution that would be getting to a point of enlightenment. I really relate to the visual symbolism that goes with the alchemical psycho-spiritual evolution process. In this album, I worked with the stages of calcination and dissolution but as far as literature goes, I didn’t really have any references there, it’s more just different symbols and archetypes that are found certainly in tons of different literature. J is much more of a literature reader than I am. I tend to have my head stuck in poetry, esoteric or research books.

Kelly, you designed the album’s artwork. What’s your approach like? Do you work as the album and ideas are taking form or wait until everything is finished?

KJ: Each time I create album art the process is different and specific to the project. I rarely have a thing I do every single time – mostly because I really pay attention to what the musicians are trying to convey and I believe album art is a hugely important counterpart to the music. In this case, because I’m also creating the music with Sera and J, I know and understand early on where the inspiration lies, so I can ruminate on visuals in the process of creating. In fact, I have very visual experiences while we’re developing the album musically, especially when Sera’s lyrics and vocals become solidified.

Although I had some inspirations before attempting the artwork, it wasn’t until after being able to sit with Sera’s lyrics and absorb everything as a whole that the images really crystallised in my mind. We also all sit and discuss what we put out into the world, so of course Sera and J were able to provide their insight into the artwork as well. As far as the tone, we all prefer a simple, minimalistic style and wanted the visual components of this album to come across clearly and powerfully.

The band’s sound has many roots in goth and doom but in previous interviews J has pointed to a slight black metal influence in Ides Of Gemini. Could you expand on that for us? How does black metal inform the band?

JB: All three of us listen to black metal to varying extents. We all enjoy it. In particular where I’m coming from with black metal, I tend to like the black metal that either maintains its relationship with rock & roll a little more, like Immortal and Darkthrone, and then on the other side, the stuff that’s a little more hypnotic like Burzum’s Filosofem album, which I think is a fantastic record. It’s things like that, the atmosphere. There are little black metal parts on both records. On Constantinople, the whole break in ‘Martyrium’ is a black metal riff. On ‘Reaping Golden’, the lead into the chorus is like my version of… I mean, I didn’t write it with Immortal in mind, but now that I hear it I’m like, yeah, that sounds like something they would do. It’s just little things here and there and then on the new record, ‘Valediction’ has a little bit of the black metal, the tremolo-riffing style, mostly for atmosphere.

Between the two albums, Sera, you released a solo record as Black Mare. Do you find these projects intertwining or do you try to keep them separate?

ST: I try to keep them pretty separate. I think that they are very separate. I think that the kind of bands that Ides Of Gemini might play with are really different than the kinds that Black Mare would. I feel like I represent a different aspect of myself in the two projects, especially on this new album. It’s much more of a forceful aggressive side and then Black Mare is a lot more, I would say, vulnerable and moody; somewhat fragile but still strong. With Ides, I’m more focused on dealing with – not so much on the last album but with the new one – a much more forceful, aggressive, powerful archetype that I’m representing. I like to keep that separate.

You’re signed to Neurot Recordings. They have a pretty diverse roster but even with that, Ides Of Gemini stand out. How did you form a relationship with the label?

JB: They contacted us. I forget the exact timeline but Sera and I had done Disruption Writ on our own, we printed CDs and did little homemade layouts and made a bunch of copies and posted the tracks online so people could hear them. Somehow, I’m not really sure how, Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly from Neurosis heard the songs and it was within a couple of months maybe of us putting the tracks up. They live in different states – Steve lives in Idaho and Scott lives in Oregon – and clearly they had copped but it was just funny, as within an hour we got separate e-mails going, "Hey, I listened to your stuff – would you be interested in doing something with us?"

Any band playing in this realm of music, you can’t help but be incredibly flattered by that, when the guys from Neurosis come out of the woodwork and say they like what you’re doing. It was a no-brainer really. Not only do they put out great stuff, I knew we would stand out. Like you said, that only works to our benefit. Just by the nature of what we do, most of the bills we’ve played, we end up standing out from the other bands. Not necessarily saying better or worse, it’s just different visually, it’s different sonically. I think we tend to stand out regardless, which is good.

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