Primitive Man interview (08/2020)
|With:||Ethan Lee McCarthy|
|Conducted by:||Apothecary (e-mail)|
I have been a big fan of the music of Ethan McCarthy, and most specifically Primitive Man, for quite some time now. First discovering the fearsome trio and their visceral brand of extreme sludge metal in 2013 with their Scorn debut, I was quickly dragged under the murky depths of vile, doomy waters with them and never bothered to come up for air. The group's lumbering, hateful take on sludge was something that, at the time, was virtually unmatched for me anywhere else in the spectrum, and very much still is. Scorn became an album I would return to regularly when in need of angry, cathartic music. The seething misanthropy and nihilism oozing from it as well as future Primitive Man material, tortured and suffocating as it is, would come to serve as something of a strange coping mechanism for me over the years: a constant reminder that I'm not the only individual out there incredibly dissatisfied with the human condition, or the only one who feels that the only way to stay afloat in it without suffering some sort of breakdown is via the creation of art.
A long admirer of McCarthy and his imposing sludge Behemoth, I just recently managed to get ahold of him for an enlightening conversation on the past and present history of Primitive Man, racial discrimination in the metal community, his Many Blessings side project, and more.
Apothecary: Hello Ethan, and on behalf of myself and Metal Storm, thanks a bunch for taking the time out for this interview. Let's get started then.
Taking your musical output into consideration, it's pretty obvious that you've been a huge sucker for extreme music, and especially punk related stuff, for a good while. Where did that love really come from originally?
Ethan: I started out listening to heavy music at a really young age. I grew up watching my older brother play in hardcore/metal bands and wanted to follow suit. I grew up a lot in DIY so you learn about a lot of stuff that way.
Apothecary: Throughout your work, you've been primarily on guitar and vocals. Which did you take up first, and what really made you go from that to the other?
Ethan: I picked up the guitar first. I only started out as a vocalist because none of my band mates wanted to do it, and we were unable to find a singer.
Apothecary: Primitive Man got started around 2012, but it's clear looking back at your work that you were involved in the extreme metal and -core scenes for a good time before then. Was the band's formation at all related to the dissolution of some of your earlier stuff, like Clinging To The Trees Of A Forest Fire or Death Of Self?
Ethan: Primitive Man was really supposed to just be a "one album and done" kind of thing. I definitely started a doom band because it was easier to find people to play slow than it was to find people who could play blast beats loud.
Apothecary: The sound of Primitive Man is predominantly doom metal, but there are also noticeable doses of black and grind in there too. Really, you're one of the few if not only metal musicians I can think of who's managed to combine those three as you have. What made you decide to fuse them all together like that?
Ethan: Thanks! I take influence from things I like and try to make them work for me. The only limitation that Primitive Man has is that it has to be extremely heavy, regardless of the genre we are "borrowing" from.
Apothecary: With the songwriting for the band, do things typically proceed outward from your command, or is it more of a group effort?
Ethan: It's a mix of things. I might have an initial riff idea, but Jon and Joe really help me bring things together and make it work for us. Sometimes one of us will have an idea of a part/song we want to put together, and we'll hum it out and try to create it that way. Most of Immersion was written in the rehearsal space together.
Apothecary: You all had a bit of a personnel transition lately too, with former drummer Isidro Soto leaving and Joe Linden coming into replace him. What really fueled the departure, and how has the lineup change affected your composition and chemistry?
Ethan: I wouldn't say we had a transition "lately," as Joe has been in the band for almost 5 years. He played on our last full length, Caustic, the Hell (USA) split, the Unearthly Trance split, as well as Immersion. Isidro was not a good fit.
Apothecary: The music of Primitive Man is pretty damn bleak, for lack of better words, and appears to reflect a lot of inner dissatisfaction with the world, the current state of human affairs, and an overall feeling of despair and powerlessness. If I'm not getting too personal, was there anything particularly serious that you went through in the past that inspired you to craft art of this nature as a release?
Ethan: Immersion touches on several themes all kind of rolled into my experiences. Mental illness, getting death threats, dissatisfaction with the state of the world, relationships that have eroded beyond repair, the effect that being a traveling musician has on your familial and social relationships, the toll of being the type of person that is unable to create, and just general world darkness.
Apothecary: Would you consider Primitive Man to be an overly political band? At times it feels as though the package is simply a sort of emotional relief for depression, yet your music video for "Bag Man" really seemed to go hard at mocking gun culture, and I saw you say in another interview a while ago that Caustic reflected a lot of your tough times working in the marijuana industry in Denver. Is the social critique there to a greater degree than some may believe?
Ethan: I think we are a mix. My specific feelings about things going on are reflected in the music/lyrics, so if it becomes political then that is what it is. The "Bag Man" video was an acknowledgement of America's relationship with guns and our culture's acceptance of state sanctioned violence against citizens even though we have said guns. How the two are interwoven and will likely never go away. When I spoke about working in the MMJ industry, it was from the point of not being able to make a living and how it is just another low paying retail job. The rich get richer, the poor stay poor, and that's that. Weed was illegal in the state until certain types of people realized how rich it could make them. And even then they still are not releasing people convicted of crimes related to marijuana.
Apothecary: I'd like to follow along this line considering the context of the George Floyd protests in the US and things you've recently expressed both on the Primitive Man Facebook as well as in your conversation on Last Words 14 with Laina Dawes and Jason Aalon Butler. In the latter you mentioned the inevitably of having to stand up for yourself and confront racists in the community as a person of color playing metal. What have been your experiences with this since starting Primitive Man?
Ethan: I've seen a lot of bullshit. Anything from a promoter calling me the N word to having musicians talk shit about me, saying that I have only used my racial background as a way to further the band's career. Anyone who isn't white will tell you that is definitely not even an option. People do not like facing racism and bigotry in their music scene, and would rather uphold the status quo.
Apothecary: Do you see yourself as something of a role model to younger people of color who may be looking to get involved in metal or other forms of extreme music? Do you feel any sort of duty to somewhat set an example for them?
Ethan: I think that it's cool if they look up to and are inspired by what we've done. Most of my metal idols were white guys growing up. I feel like it's everyone's duty to be a positive force for people. But at the end of the day i'm just another person, full of flaws.
Apothecary: What would be your advice to such people getting involved in the metal community and experiencing some of the racial backlash for the first time?
Ethan: My advice would be to stick around, get good at what you do, outlast them, and take no shit. Always stand up for yourself.
Apothecary: Shifting back to your Primitive Man efforts, not long ago you dropped Steel Casket, which seemed to fly under a lot of peoples' radar, and saw you going more for the "evil noise terror" approach. What if anything prompts you to go between that and the more doomy approach with the band?
Ethan: We have an appreciation for noise and see it as an art form. Scorn has noise tracks on it so we have always used that sound as a medium to express our ideas.
Apothecary: Thus far with Primitive Man your extreme doom and noise incarnations have remained more or less independent of each other. Do you ever think you'll end up merging the two, into a more 50/50 delivery?
Ethan: It's hard to tell what we will do next at this point. I like being in a doom band, and although I'm always fine with incorporating things into it I think at our core we will always be a metal band.
Apothecary: Recent years have seen you getting going with Many Blessings as well, a pure harsh noise outlet. How did you get started with that one?
Ethan: I've been playing noise since 2006. I originally started using the songs for Primitive Man material, but I really wanted to be able to play live and expand into more cinematic/less harsh ideas, like I did for a full length that came out in May on Translation Loss, Emanation Body.
Apothecary: Do you feel there are certain things you can express with Many Blessings that you can't with Primitive Man?
Ethan: Yes, I think I can go into the softer realms of experimental music that Primitive Man would not venture into.
Apothecary: Collaborations with other artists seem to be a pretty big thing in the noise genre. Is there anyone off the top of your head your could see yourself doing any Many Blessings collab releases with?
Ethan: Oren Ambarchi, Rush Falknor, Jason Crumer, Keiji Hanno, White Phosphorus, Human Tide, Merzbow, KTL. To name a few.
Apothecary: Does making music as you do, of such a bludgeoning and abysmal nature ever get tiring after a while, to the point that you feel you may need another musical outlet with a "tamer" approach to sort of balance out the energy? Or, on a similar note, could you ever see yourself doing some music outside the realms of metal and noise in the future?
Ethan: It never gets tiring but It's always good to be able to have different ways to express oneself. So the calmer Many Blessings material is where I direct that energy. I like making harsh things. But If I were to go outside of those genres it would probably be in the direction of something electronic.
Apothecary: From what I understand, you've also been doing visual arts for a while now, under the name Hell Simulation. When did you get started on that, and is there anything you get out of it that you feel can't really be touched upon with music?
Ethan: I've been making art since 2010. Hell Simulation is just a newer approach to how I've been making art: more distilled, clean, and pointed. It's just an extension of some of the ideas I may or may not communicate in music.
Apothecary: Your visual art always seems to carry a lo fi, sort of industrial aesthetic to it. What other artists may have influenced that style, if any?
Ethan: Sakevi Yokoyama is probably the only collage artist that has inspired me. The rest of the things I do are usually inspired by artists that can use pen and paper better than I can.
Apothecary: Within the past year or so Primitive Man have really been taking a much more forward role on shows, you all being headliners now with your own tours much more than opening in support of others. What are your thoughts on having reached that point as a band, and now being able to take some younger bands along with you for the ride as Primitive Man were when you were getting started?
Ethan: I'm happy and grateful that people have cared for long enough to continue to grow. And we are happy to take young bands out, because in the beginning no one was taking us out. So being able to give young bands a chance to grow is a rewarding experience in itself.
Apothecary: Primitive Man have a new album coming out this month, Immersion. Would you care to give a little context to the development and inspiration behind it?
Ethan: The album is about me facing inner demons and struggling with mental health while watching the country I live in implode. All while trying to find solace and purpose in playing music. Lack of financial stability and the curse of having to create and live my dream. Being a musician is in my blood, and it's the only thing I have ever wanted to do. So the album is also about what that obsession does to relationships with friends, family, and so on. It was written in between tours between the end of 2017 all the way up to March 2020.
Apothecary: Do you feel as though Immersion has captured something that previous Primitive Man releases haven't?
Ethan: Absolutely. This was the most painful record to make and I think it reflects that. It's probably our hardest listen.
Apothecary: Well Ethan, that's about it from me. I'm sure I echo the sentiment of a good number of Metalstormers when I say that I'm highly anticipating the new Primitive Man record (now just 9 days away!).
Any last words, questions for Metal Storm, myself, etc?
Ethan: Thanks for the interview!
And thank you as well for all your time, Ethan. Keep crushing with Primitive Man, tingling spines with Many Blessings, challenging opinions with your Hell Simulation art, and genuinely scaring the shit out of all of us. Metal Storm salutes you.
||Posted on 05.08.2020 by Comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable since 2013.|
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