Lotus Thief interview (03/2020)
|Conducted by:||RaduP (e-mail)|
We've already had our fair share of great releases this year, really no shortage of, but one of those that really stuck with me was Lotus Thief's latest. Originally knowing them as a sort of Botanist offshoot, the new album gave me a new opportunity to reevaluate the band, and that made me rather curious about certain things. Since Beth (Bezaelith) has already answered one of my emails regarding their lineup, I took the opportunity to ask for some more things. In the meantime, the world got a lot crazier, so I have to thank her for making the time to answer these. Stay safe, everyone.
RP: Out of all metal bands, you are one of the few to take so much inspiration from literature, and also literature that isn't Tolkien or Lovecraft. Most of all, you seem to take interest in literature of the old and ancient. Why this special interest towards it and how much do you feel it still describes our human situation? Is there an interest in the history and culture of the times or just the need for something distant from us?
Bezaelith: It's harder to get permission / legal clearance to go verbatim from a modern day text. Not keen on getting sued for writing Kurt Vonnegut or Alan Moore-themed songs using their words. That said, if I ever met Alan Moore and he OK-ed it, I would do more justice to his work than the movies did. I think he had a few choice words on how his books were represented in film. And perhaps there's something to say for that. Take Stephen King. My all time favorite narrative writer. His heavy hitters make me feel like some trusted family member telling me a story. I love his books, his goofy cameos, used to show his speeches on writing in my classroom all the time. Apparently King hated Kubrick's vision of The Shining. Meanwhile so many people love it. It's regarded by many as one of the scariest films of all time. It's an opus to horror. I love the book and the movie. Then King makes his own version of the film. It was more accurate to the book, but it's made-for-TV-ness didn't have the sauce....though "The Stand" (also made-for-TV) was kinda awesome in its own weird way. Anyway my point is, maybe it's hard for artists to see how others envision their work in another form. Maybe what I'm reimagining is another world, in a similar way to how Kubrick saw The Overlook in his mind. I am highly resistant to making a music video for our songs precisely for that reason. So many music videos are gag-worthy out of the gate, and precious few age well without becoming actually funny. Like "November Rain".... I remember when everyone thought that video was the cutting edge of all music videos....now I look back at it and it's hilarious. Music videos can sometimes be kind of awful when you think about it. They destroy the pictures you make in your mind when you hear the song. Ultimately, I guess it's because of the historical, alien aspect of the text that makes LT accessible in its own super weird way. Aeschylus so far hasn't risen from the void to tell me my work sucks. But if he did, I wouldn't blame him, it's not Ancient Greece, we don't live in that world or have the faintest notion what it really felt like. And that's not the point anyway. Our point is showing listeners what we feel when we read the words. What it invokes in us, the message that transcends time. How it plays through our 21st century bodies. "The world has moved on."
RP: How much richer would the world be right now if most of our ancient texts weren't monopolized by the Romans and Greeks, with most of what we know about other peoples comes from what the Romans and Greeks said about them?
Bezaelith: I'm not sure it's entirely monopolized anymore. We are growing to include non-euro-centric cultures in our teaching, and speaking as former New Jersey, New York and California public, I do have some years building curricula around the topic. My parents taught Asian and African history right along with European history in the 70's. I grew up in a home filled with mostly Chinese and Japanese artwork, African wooden sculptures, along with the Eurocentric paintings of Venice and castles and stuff too. I was lucky for sure. But American public schools don't get away with teaching only dead white guys anymore. The new guard of teachers generally fights hard for students to be exposed to all cultures. I taught Native American, South American, African, Asian and European mythology together. There's still the old guard isolationist feeling in many rural areas, but even there, I've seen little white kids embrace non-white mythos for all its beauty. I agree that focusing too much on any singular culture gets boring and inbred, but on the whole, the kids are alright so long as the libraries stay open.
RP: You've had an album centered around science, and one centered around esotericism, what would you say Oresteia's key word would be?
Bezaelith: Keywords: Violence and Law. Oresteia is entirely philosophical, and not intended to be taken as a literal story on our end, because its purpose as a theatrical work I don't believe for a second to be just entertainment. In Ancient Greece, it was the civic duty of citizens (aka male non-slaves, yay progress), to attend the theatre. Ultimately that's teaching the moral agenda to the masses the same way major networks decide what their message is, what morals do they want instilled in their consumers. For Oresteia, the two questions in mind were (1) What does it take to make a person capable of killing? - and (2) Is killing ever justified? The album is sorting out those questions, turning it over like some stone with many edges.
RP: What are the challenges of adapting a literary work into music compared to adapting it into another art form like film or theater?
Bezaelith: You got me there. I've never adapted a literary work into theater or film. Music doesn't obey the same rules as theater or film. To me, because I am a musician, music is more free flight because sound doesn't need a makeup technician or costumes or a lighting director. Sound is to me, pure. But to a movie director, the whole image plus sound must be their medium and world, and I respect that their tools and protocols must be different than mine, just as composing may be alien to a film director or Broadway director. Making music to me is as natural as breathing, and necessary to stay sane. I'm grateful for every moment I get the chance to learn more.
RP: Would it be possible to spoil a music album the same way you'd spoil a book or a movie?
Bezaelith: Nope. A good album / book / film / painting persists. Good art persists. The movie The Shawshank Redemption (again, Mr. King) is about a prison break. That they successfully break out of prison was implied in the movie poster and like all of the trailer material. We all knew it was gonna happen. The film was still good. Giger's Alien is clearly about an alien that decimates a space crew. We knew it would pop out of people's guts and do its killing song and dance. It's still a good film on the umpteenth watch.
RP: Is it ever disheartening that you put so much effort in the narrative and the lyrics of an album and then have a review barely if at all touch upon those?
Bezaelith: I'm just happy that people are listening. I don't expect them to tear apart every detail in the same way that I don't think film directors get their panties in a bunch over whether or not every nuance of their film was entirely absorbed by every critic. That's impossible. I'm sure there are folks who get a lot of the detail and good for them. There are some who get next to none of it, and good for them. I'm making this for myself and the players and the listeners who choose to sink into it as far as they want to go. That the reviewers are interested enough to ask questions in the first place is important, and usually those questions are thoughtful, worth consideration and awesome. It's an honor that people care this much.
RP: Lotus Thief started out in relation to Botanist, and Otrebor has been doing drums for Lotus Thief for a long while. How did you get to work together, is there a possibility of further collaborations, and what other music endeavors did you have prior to Lotus Thief?
Bezaelith: On Oresteia, Koryun Bobikyan is the drummer. He's the drummer on the next three releases. Oretbor did drums on Rervm and Gramarye. As to Botanist, I worked in that group after auditioning for a band called Cestvs that Otrebor was also in. The band didn't get anywhere but both Botanist and Lotus Thief shot out in the following years after many of our peripheral group of musicians in the SF area sort of buckled down on several projects until results happened. Palace Of Worms is a great example of that work ethic and pioneer mindset. I did some vox on "The Ladder" and really got into it because it wasn't my writing style and it challenged me to write something into a totally different headspace. Another offshoot of that era is Forlesen, with Ascalaphus of Lotus Thief, aka AJL who toured and recorded with Botanist back in the day. He's one of the most talented vocalists I've ever worked with. A lot of male metal vocalists frankly follow the playbook. You often get the typical attempted Hettfields, brah-rock screams (I don't know if I can call it screaming or yelling) that sound like entitled college boys crying over not getting into the frat they wanted, or those screams that are mere attempts to top the ugliness of other ugly screams for the sake of ugliness-by-comparison and not what suits the song. He doesn't follow any of those tendencies and I love that. He's got that Scott Walker "The Electrician" meets Roger Waters "One Of These Day's I'm Going To Cut You Into Little Pieces" thing going on. Forlesen's debut and its successor won't disappoint in that vein. Also, there's another record I'm working on with some folks here in New York that will gradually release some material. Very excited about all the future projects for sure.
The new expanded lineup of Lotus Thief
RP: How has the songwriting process changed ever since the lineup was expanded? How do you see it progressing further now that you're working on a follow-up?
Bezaelith: The songwriting has gotten easier, oddly. We've progressed into sort of an extended family of weirdos who write music or specialize in an instrument. Most of us are multi-instrumentalists. With Rervm and Gramarye, my resources and knowledge were limited. Now, it's like we have almost too many options, but that ultimately is a good thing. The other day I was working on a chorale harmony. My old friend Heather, to be known soon as Mohrany comes over and sits in the studio and furrows her brow and says "Nope, try it this way..." and boom. Out of nowhere, it's ten times more colorful a chorale than I would have come up with by myself on Rervm. Kevin's / Romthulus' guitar is controlled and precise but keeps the feeling in tact, it isn't stiff like a lot of super-trained guitarists are, it's fiery and writhing and alive. We get to paint with that guitar. Ascalaphus / Alex's vocals are dynamic and off the chains. Albert / Tal R'eb's synth, guitar and compositional strengths are crucial. And then there's the bands that the LT players are in, many of whom are also buddies, who also listen to bounces of our work and give us the brutal feedback we want early on in the process. The follow up to Oresteia is already written in its preliminary bounce. The spine and structure is there, now we improve the blueprint and give it life.
RP: Speaking of follow-ups, you did mention that there are at least three more in the works. Will they be as conceptually cohesive as Oresteia, based on a single work, or song-based like the previous ones?
Bezaelith: You heard right. There are at least three slowly accumulating material, with the immediate successor already written start to finish at a draft level. They are all concept-based, but they will be entirely different animals, experimenting with sound, timing and style and very different subject material and time period.
RP: How do you relate to the first two albums with the hindsight you have right now?
Bezaelith: Good question. I see them all as a catalog in reference to themselves and to each other. Oresteia, however, does sort of feel like that moment where Dorothy goes to Oz and the suddenly you see technicolor for the first time. I get that feeling when I listen to it in contrast to the others. But that only goes so far, because now we're listening to Oresteia's successor, which will be extremely different to Oresteia because life would be boring otherwise. I see all of Lotus Thief's work as a collection ultimately.
RP: Which was the best live experience that the band ever had?
Bezaelith: The last show I played with Lotus Thief in SF. We hadn't played together for over a year, none of us played Oresteia live. We pulled it together in three rehearsals and played the album start to finish. I love the stage energy and teamwork we have in general in this lineup.
RP: Choose any one active band that you'd give anything to open for.
Bezaelith: Yob. Because they are different enough from us to make the full breadth of experience colorful as a sky full of stars. I don't like hearing three bands in a row that sound like they're all in the exact same genre playing the same chords... I just get bored. I would want to play with a contrasting band that is equally as loud but a different sound world.
RP: Choose any one active director/filmmaker that should put Oresteia to film.
Bezaelith: Again, back to the dilemma of how would it look without being cheesy. Ultimately, I think an animator would be the best choice of all, but animation is sell-your-kidneys expensive and often difficult to find quality from what I've been told by other bands who have explored that avenue.
RP: Since "krautrock" is somewhat of a derogatory term for Germans, what would you replace it with?
Bezaelith: Experimental, psyche or prog rock because that's sort of what it is? That said, one could perhaps see "The British Invasion" as derogatory to the Brits... being married to one I can relate. I'm very meh on pegging stuff into genres in the first place. Because once a band tries something out of that genre, then where do you go? It's like people's brains explode or something. The best artists to me are the ones who don't ascribe to genre-labeling, gatekeeper culture, or worry all that much about the terminology and semantics so much as does it sound good and why.
RP: Any closing words?
Bezaelith: Thanks very much for taking the time to interview us. Thanks again and again to the listeners who support what we do. Wishing everyone around the world safety and peace in this time.
||Posted on 17.03.2020 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.|
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