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Executioner's Mask interview (05/2022)

With: Jay Gambit
Conducted by: RaduP (e-mail)
Published: 06.05.2022

Back when I first interviewed Jay Gambit, Executioner's Mask had barely released their first demo EP a couple of day before, and it had more of a side-project vibe than anything. I mean, Crowhurst was just about to release III, their biggest album yet, have two sets at Roadburn Festival, and they just got an interview with me. In 2022, there's only been two Crowhurst records since, both of much lower impact, whereas Executioner's Mask became a full-fledged band, singed to Profound Lore, released Despair's Anthems to great acclaim, and now they have another upcoming one. I had a conversation with Jay about it.

Winterlong, out on the 17th of June through Profound Lore

Radu: Howdy, we're here with Jay from Executioner's Mask and Crowhurst. How are ya today?

Jay: I’m awake and alive, which is positive or negative depending on perspective.

Radu: I'd reckon most of the ones reading the interview are, so we have that in common.

Jay: I’d hope so.

Radu: You have a new album coming out from the Executioner's Mask project. It wasn't that long ago that Despair Anthems was released, so it's fair to say that this project is pretty far from a one-off thing or merely a side project, like I initially assumed when I hear the True Blue EP, right?

Jay: It is officially my main musical priority. When True Blue was released, I had no clue that we would have the opportunities to blossom certain ideas we’ve since explored. With Winterlong, there was an explicit pursuit of touching upon the same depth of ideas I usually reach for with Crowhurst. The result was something we all are immensely proud of.

Radu: So what was you idea of what Executioner's Mask should be when it was first started, and why wasn't it just another record under the Crowhurst name?

Jay: In the beginning it was really just a fun project with friends, but was built to be musically and conceptually different from Crowhurst in every way. For that reason, it needed to be its own thing.

Radu: Could you elaborate on why it is conceptually different?

Jay: It’s got a fixed lineup, it’s meant to explore much more traditional thematic and structural territories, and the songs aren’t intended to be digested in the same way.

Radu: I see that the core of the lineup has remained consistent throughout, but I also see five people in the Bandcamp profile pic. Who else is there with you in it?

Jay: The Despair Anthems lineup is myself, Ryan Wilson of The Howling Void and Intestinal Disgorge, and Craig Mickle of Cop Warmth and LACE. For Winterlong we added Christian Molenaar who worked with me on Crowhurst’s III to the fold. Playing live involves many more moving pieces so we have an entirely different lineup for that.

Radu: So the Bandcamp pic is the live lineup?

Jay: Live lineup:

The aforementioned band pic

Radu: Aye, that's the pic right there. Other than you, who else is common between the live lineup and the studio one?

Jay: Craig Mickle (seen in the Black Leather Jesus shirt) and Christian Molenaar (not pictured).

Radu: Is it difficult to manage different simultaneous lineups of the same band?

Jay: Not really. Everything has a structure, so there’s not much to manage.

Radu: Crowhurst seemed to have more of a band-like structure in the past couple of years, so I can't help but draw some parallels to you seemingly working better in a band environment lately. How do you feel about that?

Jay: I do like working with a band or an ensemble. My greatest joy is working with musicians I admire, who are often friends, towards creating a greater project. Sometimes I get to join other people’s projects, like in the case of White Ward or Dragged Into Sunlight - but no matter the situation, it’s where I feel most comfortable.

Radu: I reckon there's a different type of validation that comes with having your ideas be proofed by a collaborative ensemble rather than being in charge of everything yourself?

Jay: It’s definitely always flattering to have ideas be run through the perspective of an artist or artists you respect, but I wouldn’t say it’s validating. I don’t get much external validation, and to seek it would only lead me further from the object of my pursuit. To be honest, I’m surprised we’re talking and I’m even more surprised that anyone is reading this.

Radu: I mean, you can tell things have changed quite a bit since 2012 when you were releasing a bajillion albums in a single year. Your current schedule feels pretty far removed from it, and in turn there's a different sense of perceived artistic integrity to it. If there's any time for anyone to be interested in your music, it's now, when releases feel like they've been worked on quite a lot. How does this feel like from your side?

Jay: I feel like I made some of the best records of my life (Memory-Loss, Aghoree, Haldol, No Life To Live, amongst others) during a period in which I was perceived as having less artistic integrity than I have currently because of this creative mania. Yeah, there’s more focused work now and some of it is “better” - but I would say that a lot of my earlier stuff feels as vital creatively.

Radu: It is kinda weird that this year will have a Crowhurst album 10th year anniversary every once in a while. Is there any particular album from that period you feel the need to revisit in some way?

Jay; I think that project hasn’t been gone long enough to know if that’s an anniversary worth celebrating. We’ll know in a few years, I guess.

Radu: I remember when III came around I was really surprised that you were doing most if not all of the vocals on it despite having some high-caliber guests on it. How was the transition to your vocals taking more of a presence in your music in both Crowhurst and Executioner's Mask?

Jay: I am surprised anyone wants me to sing, but the more I sing - the more folks seem to praise my voice. It’s the only thing I’m trained to do and I still don’t think I’m very good. Personally, I attribute any positive qualities people associate with my vocals to the talents of the folks recording and mixing them.

Radu: They're definitely the kind of vocals that fit certain types of music more than others, and that need to be mixed accordingly. So the goth rock of Executioner's Mask is quite a good fit. But I was pretty intrigued hearing them over death metal in Harsh Metal, though there's obviously a different approach in that one. What else have you got up your sleeve vocally?

Jay: That’s all really. I’m a two trick pony, and you’ve seen them both trot.

Radu: You're just saying that to throw us off the trail while you nail Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You", right?

Jay: This is why I love talking to you, Radu - you’re always two steps ahead of me.

Radu: Speaking of Harsh Metal, why was that album so quiet?

Jay: Because I am a very poor mixer/mastering engineer.

Radu: Yeah, the concept of combining death metal and harsh noise was a pretty interesting one. Would you ever revisit that or do you know anything that might scratch the same itch?

Jay: I would do it again, but it needs to be fun. The idea is out there, so it’s not like I need to explore the concept - but it was a fun record to make so I wouldn’t count out doing more.

Radu: Yeah, but get someone else to mix it this time around.

Jay: You know I will.

Radu: Why did you get Tony Wakeford on your album if you didn't even let him sing?

Jay: It hadn’t even occurred to me, to be honest. Sol Invictus, particularly the album In The Rain is one of the most sonically gorgeous albums I’ve ever heard. What he played, I feel really lent a quality that evoked the same feeling.

Radu: I do remember mistaking your vocals in that song for his, so I guess you got that going for you.

Jay: That’s massively complimentary, thank you.

Radu: And Winterlong's artwork, what do you say it represents?

Jay: That’s an awesome question. To me, the theme of the “orb” or “drop” that carries throughout the album’s art represents the infinite worlds that exist within our own. I wanted to play with the idea that there are fractal levels of reality without explicitly referencing it. The different “worlds” thing sounded a whole lot cooler before that new [The] Weeknd album dropped with a very similar concept. Albeit, they did it better.

Radu: Having listened to both albums, I can confirm that I liked The Weeknd more, but not by that large a margin. In his defense, he was working with Daniel Lopatin on that one, and you didn't get too just yet.

Jay: We have Christian now, and I consider that a close second. I love Christian and their talent is endless.

Radu: Their synths were certainly a very nice touch to the whole thing. But also you worked with Ryan Schwabe who worked with Daniel Lopatin, so you're a few degrees of separation from The Weeknd. So a collaboration is imminent.

Jay: He worked with Adam Sandler, so if we don’t collaborate I’ll have to settle for that pair-up as consolation.

Radu: I can't wait for you to make soundtracks for Happy Madison Productions.

Jay: Mr. Sandler, if you’re reading this - call me!

Here's the live lineup again

Radu: You mentioned that Ryan isn't that big of a post-punk connoisseur, which does make Winterlong a bit of interesting listen considering that it comes from a bit of a different place rather than just going for a sound. How do you feel that each of your relationships with the music you were making previously impacts the music you're trying to make now?

Jay: I think it impacts the music we’re making immensely. Craig and I have deep appreciation for styles of music that couldn’t be further from what we’re making at face value, but our ability to communicate the ideas in those genres to each other is an incredible bedrock. Ryan’s style of playing is incredibly powerful, no matter how it’s framed. That’s why Endless Disease is so brutal and The Howling Void is so harrowing, and I think a practical understanding of the musical spectrum like that couldn’t be more fertile ground for application in any genre.

Radu: What's something about this kind of music that you now notice while listening to it after making some in this vein yourself?

Jay: I notice how much I still find myself turning to the same records by Sex Church, Chinese Stars, Clockcleaner, Destruction Unit, and Nogaxt that I did back in college. Part of me thought that I’d gain a deeper appreciation for classic goth music or whatever, but really I just still wanna make a record as good as Growing Over or Babylon Rules.

Radu: I'm gonna be very concerned with the fact that none of those names are familiar to me.

Jay: Could be part of the reason why the name Executioner’s Mask will not be familiar to most people.

Radu: Why couldn't you just make Floodland 2?

Jay: Wasn’t Despair Anthems enough of that?

Radu: Enough? Never.

Jay: For you, never. For me, one is enough. That’s why we tried to make something that sounded modern with this one, and added elements that were distinctly not traditional to the genre.

Radu: So the next one will be even differenter?

Jay: Yes. It sounds very very different.

Radu: Already making plans for it?

Jay: Yes, we have the studio booked already.

Radu: Looking into the artists you named, seems like I have some listening to do. Right before this interview I was actually checking the 15 Essential Noise Albums list you made 7 years ago and it reminded me that I really should start exploring more music instead of just trying to keep up with new releases. What's do you think would be the healthiest listening habit to have when there's so much music out there and they keep making more for some reason?

Jay: It is wild that the list I wrote for Invisible Oranges has gotten so much traction. Personally, I am constantly feeling ten years behind but there’s always new stuff coming out. In fact, with Bandcamp Friday it seemed like there was too much music to keep up with for a while. That’s sort of when the debate about where art ends and content begins comes up. If there’s ever a situation where I need to find new music, there’s tons of great labels of every size and scope that are putting out great records from new and old acts all the time. Sometimes you’ll find stuff that hooks you, others might blow between your ears only to be forgotten. Both are cool experiences.

Radu: You were really able to cover a lot of ground for such a singular genre, showcasing its interactions with a bunch of other sounds. I had already heard Ramleh and Gnaw Their Tongues and Einstürzende Neubauten, and had heard of CCCC and The Goslings, but Pedestrian Deposit and Scant are legitimately mind blowing. But the one that got my eye the most was Facialmess because I've been trying to get more into dub. I recently reviewed P.H.O.B.O.S., which is an industrial doom metal band that left its metal elements behind for an album, which lead me to trace a lot of this industrial electronic music back to it. It really feels like the kind of genre with a lot of indirect influence but that is pretty unsung. What would you say would be the best releases for someone who is into stuff like Godflesh and Swans to get into dub?

Jay: Winston Edwards and that whole scene, as well as all the On-U stuff. There’s a goldmine of dark and experimental dub out there.

Radu: Since you wrote a list for Invisible Oranges, wanna write something for us too?

Jay: I will write whatever you’d want, sure. Thank you for asking me!

Radu: When the time is right I will reach out. Did you get to cover anything else without your bandmate's knowledge like you did that "Oops I Did It Again" time in the Gnaw Their Tongues collab set?

Jay: Hahahaha I think the band knew, as we all practiced - but I don’t think anyone expected we’d actually do it. We’ve covered lots of weird stuff, a lot of it never released.

Radu: Never released... yet?

Jay: Nope, but we have some interesting ones that will get released. Working on a post punk version of a CombatWoundedVeteran song just in case we need to have a post punk version of a CWV track. Trying to always be prepared for anything.

Radu: You never know. So Crowhurst is on hiatus now, right?

Jay: Yeah. How can anyone miss it if it won’t go away? How will we know if it’s worth missing? To quote Neil Hamburger, “not everything goes in the recycle bin”. Have you heard this? This is a record I grew up with, that’s out of print everywhere and it’s not streaming. But it’s a masterpiece. It’s the kind of album that makes you stop and shake your head, inspires you, frustrates you with its abundance of ideas.

Radu: Ah, this is not actually a jazz record.

Jay: This is a fusion of jazz, poetry, queer punk, math rock and post punk.

Radu: Name doesn't seem familiar, but I'm on the second track and this is absolutely fantastic. This is precisely the kind of sound I'd want to explore more.

Jay: They are a Three One G band and one of the most iconic queer punk bands to have ever graced a stage. I’m so glad I can show you them! Sadly there’s little that sounds like this, but that’s why I love them. There’s nothing that comes close. A totally singular band, who made singular works. This is a great interview.

Radu: Hey, this is gonna turn out into us just sending each other stuff. Since it's my turn now.

Jay: Philly natives!!! I’ve never met them but I’ve been a fan forever.

Radu: Anyway, before we derail this too much. Have you reconsidered your position on pineapple on pizza since our last interview?

Jay: I want to sit here and tell you that I live and let live, and that what someone does in private won’t get any judgement from me - but if I hear you wanna throw cheese and pineapple and tomato sauce on a piece of thin bread and call it a meal then I’m gonna have to question your decision making skills. That’s just how it goes.

Radu: I'm out of questions. Sadly. Anything else you wanna add to our readers?

Jay: I want to thank anyone who’s taken the time to read this, or anything else I’ve been a part of. Thanks for checking out the record if you did. We tried.

Posted on 06.05.2022 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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