Allegory & Metaphor: Ides Of Gemini Interviewed

J Bennett of Los Angeles crew Ides Of Gemini speaks to Jessica Crowe about his band's elegiac, subtle and glacial debut album Constantinople, and life in LA

In Constantinople, Los Angeles band Ides Of Gemini – vocalist Sera Timms (of Black Math Horseman), moonlighting music journalist J Bennett and drummer Kelly Johnston – crafted a debut album by turns elegiac, subtle and glacial. Thanks to Timms’ spiritually untethered, enigmatic lyrics – ‘Resurrectionists” "how will I rise, this body goes through time", for example – it feels geographically nebulous, a sensation heightened by song titles such as ‘Austrian Windows’, and the album title’s reference to Ottoman-era Istanbul.

Attempting to recognise anything amongst the dreamlike gloom is illusory. The rattling drums, J Bennett’s acerbic and hazy guitar riffs coupled with Timms’ ice queen, Cathedral-hollow vocals get under the skin; strange songs such as ‘Martyrium’ and ‘Old Believer’ stay with you like an echo.

So somehow the band’s music is a neat match for their LA home. Undefined, eerie and with an unspoken emotional weight, that strange, intangible, Lynchian city and its sprawling landscapes accommodate them very well. Dispatched to spread the beautiful gloom across Europe, the Quietus spoke to the reclusive J Bennett to attempt to get to the bottom of the murky, hollowed out depths of Constantinople.

Prosaic things first, how’s the European tour going?

J Bennett: It’s been good, we’ve had many ups and downs, just like a lot of bands on their first tour… but overall it’s been great. We’re kind of looking at this as laying the foundations, so people understand a little bit about what we’re about next time we come back.

You’re from a journalistic background (J writes for Decibel magazine) and this is how most people know you. How did you come about forming Ides of Gemini?

JB: I guess it’s only interesting in a sense that I started playing guitar when I was a teenager, like most people I guess. That kind of stopped when I was nineteen, twenty and I started to get involved in journalism. I didn’t pick it up again ’til i heard Sera, our singer, with her other band [Black Math Horseman]. The reason this band exists really, she inspired it. I’m not really as advanced as someone my age probably should be, but I have an excuse. I haven’t played in like twelve years!

You mentioned in a previous interview that you wanted the band’s music to be almost a conduit for Sera’s voice?

JB: She’s the star of the show as far as I’m concerned. I don’t like anything – the drums, the guitar or the bass – getting too busy. Of course we want the music to be good, but its mainly a platform for her voice, the songs are all written specifically with her in mind. I think a lot of bands have vocalists, not singers, and they write music and they kind of hand it over to whoever’s doing the vocals and say "do what you can with this". I think bands with singers work in a different way. I can’t speak for everybody, but when you have a "singer", you work with the voice as if it were a guitar, bass or drums.

So how does that inform the development of the songs on the album Constantinople?

JB: I write all the music. We work strangely in a way I suppose, so I’ll write it and turn it over to her [Sera] and she’ll say "Ok, maybe I want to do this four times, instead of two times", then she’ll come up with the vocal. I mean, I know she’s good, I trust her and I know it’ll work and what she likes.

And Sera writes the lyrics? I really love them – they’re ageless and placeless but obviously steeped in some sort of mythology. I feel no matter how many times I listen to Constantinople, and I do know the album inside out, I’ll never get under it’s skin, or be able to interpret where it was written and what it’s about!

JB: She writes all the lyrics, yeah. Here’s the thing, the reason why I’m standing here doing this interview is because she doesn’t want to answer this question. The words mean a very specific thing to her. They’re kind of all allegory and metaphors, a lot of mythology in there. I mean I could tell you the superficial kind of stories I guess, but I don’t want to take the mystery away.

Mystery seems to be a key point with Ides of Gemini…

JB: I think so much now, the way society is going, everybody having social media, everybody knows who everybody is, the mystery is totally stripped away. You see artists showing us creative processes, Twittering from the studio or releasing little snippets before the work is complete. Or even illustrators, you’ll see the development all the time. But that curtain is pulled for us.

So you’re not tweeting every five minutes?

JB: Err, no.

Constantinople is an equally nebulous album title. A city that no longer exists!

JB: That was my idea, it came to me in a dream. I dreamt I was on top of a building, a very modern skyscraper but we were looking out over a vast ancient city. I asked where we were, and someone said, well its Constantinople. It’s the first time that a word has ever come to me like that. I don’t usually remember dreams, and therefore look for more significance in them than I probably should. We have a song called ‘Constantinople’, that we released on a split LP with [Belgian black metal band] Vermapyre. I’ve never seen anyone else release an album where the title track is on another LP. Quite odd.

Indeed! Now, you’re based in Los Angeles. How do you think an unstable place like LA influences your writing? It seems rather at odds with your tenebrous sound…

JB: Well, LA is a very isolating place. The typical things people think about LA are Hollywood, then the giant music industry, conglomerates, gangs…  we’re not part of any of that, you know. We’re not on Capitol records or something, and we are certainly not involved in gangs! I guess our music could be created anywhere. It just happened to be LA ‘cos that’s where we met. I mean, not that we’re lonely people but we certainly feel isolated from certain things in that city. But that isolation is largely self imposed and I do think that comes through on the album.

An irritant of a question but going back to the mystery that surrounds Ides….how would you define the band’s sound? There’s elements of doom metal, and lyrically the natural elements of black metal. But it seems fairly fluid, slithering through both those genres without aligning itself to anyone…

JB: Er, ‘depressing’? [laughs] I think if anything else ominous is a great word. More than anything we wanted to create a sense of atmosphere and a sense of whatever people want to put into that, whatever they think it means to them that’s great. I’m not going to stand here and say ‘this song means this’, etc. Even if I could, I wouldn’t tell you [what the lyrics mean], because it just takes the mystery out of it. I like the idea that people listen to this record and participate in a way – putting their own interpretations on it. I don’t want to guide anyone.

So it’s a fairly transient album…

JB: Yeah. And like Constantinople as a city – that meant lots of different things to people, religions, societies, had many different names – our album could mean anything to anyone.

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