North Carolina USA’s Æther Realm have released their sophomore album entitled “Tarot” via Primitive Ways on June 7th and what a 2nd full length it is. Featuring almost 75 minutes of music, the album also sees the band venturing into concept album territory of sorts and hitting numerous musical styles along the way. Lead vocalist/bassist Vincent “Jake” Jones and guitarists Heinrich Arnold and Donny Burbage all chimed in to answer some questions for us regarding the new album, the concept, the music scene in NC, the upcoming tour and a few other things…. check it out….
Congrats on your new album “Tarot”…..what has been the response so far regarding it?
Jake: “It’s been pretty bonkers! Universally positive (except for a few posts on some Russian metal forum, one guy appears to have preferred our first album. I think that means we’re a real band?) I hope we can keep riding this wave for a while-one of my favorite things right now is waking up and finding a few new people that have “discovered” us, and written on our Facebook or sent us an email through Bandcamp telling us they think we’ve done their favorite album this year-I haven’t experienced that much. There was a little bit with “One Chosen……”, but not nearly like this, and it just makes me feel like we did something right you know?”
Heinrich: “It’s been awesome! Have quite a few friends who are NOT super invested into metal that are digging the album, which has been neat.”
Donny: “I’m just glad everyone digs the zany parts in it.”
Take us back to your last album (2013’s “One Chosen By The Gods”)…..were tracks from “Tarot” in existence back then or is everything post “One Chosen…..”?
Jake: “I always forget whether “One Chosen……” was 2012 or 2013 for some reason, I think because the album was done in 2012. I remember it being totally finished by December 21st, 2012, because Heinrich and I drove to NYC from NC to see Wintersun at the Gramercy Theatre the day before, and got back home late that night only to walk into an “end of the world” party in full swing at my house! Hectic times.
Sorry I got a little off track. The answer is that yes-a few of them. “The Tower” existed as just the chorus in guitar pro form for a long time-so did a few different themes from “The Sun, The Moon, The Star”, one of the reoccurring melodies in “The Fool” and TSTMTS (that big choir part)…bits and pieces. Nothing was completed that early on though.”
With the titles of the tracks, it would be easy to assume this is a “concept album”. Is it truly a concept album or was the idea of tarot card titled tracks appealing without having to be necessarily conceptualized/connected? If it is a concept what would the basic idea of it?
Jake: “I remember like maybe a year or 2 deep into it, I had a pretty maniacal period where I convinced myself that we were going to re-write it as an ongoing story, and I was gonna get voice actors to do like speaking parts throughout… phew that would have been a nightmare to organize. Not writing off the idea of doing something like that someday, but I’m glad this just turned out as a regular old *hopefully* good, well written metal album.
As it is, it’s not a “concept” album in that sense-lyrically I didn’t write a single long story that’s intended to be followed throughout. I think it’s an enjoyable experience to listen to it all the way through, because I put a lot of work into introducing musical motifs in the first song and then paying it all off at the end, but it’s not required to “understand” any of the songs. Lyrically, I choose fantasy/magic/grandiose themes-either just as fun short stories for the sake of it, or as metaphor for whatever emotion I’m feeling.
The tarot theme helps me write lyrics, because I think I can write within a defined theme well, but I have a nightmare just like, choosing what a song is going to be about. Lyrics are almost always the last thing in the process (like we’re IN the studio and I’m having a panic attack on a bunk bed at 3:00AM because I have to do vocals the next day and I’m still finishing lyrics), so a lot of the time I know what I want any given line to “sound” like, but I don’t know what it’s actually going to say, and the lyric writing process is figuring out the right words to use to create that sound. The tarot theme also fits in well with what I want Aether Realm to be – this big grandiose musical thing that embodies the spirit of adventure, and adventure for me is the unknown and the unexplainable.”
You have numerous styles on display on “Tarot”…..do you feel that you need to keep a decent amount of diversity in the tracks to not be one dimensional? Do all of the band members want to add in styles that they are into in the songwriting process and you just make it all work?
Jake: “No and Yes. Or maybe kind of yes and yes? This is a good one.
I actually worried on both the last album and this one that we don’t have a “sound”. The songs are *too* different from each other, and it doesn’t help to establish an identity as a band. So, it’s not that I’m trying to put together songs that are intentionally diverse-it just kind of happens naturally. I wear my influences on my sleeve a lot, and so I think you can really hear what I was listening to during different parts of different songs (the parts that I wrote, at least). A lot of Fleshgod during “The Devil”, a lot of Equilibrium during “King of Cups, more Ensiferum for “Tarot”, more Insomnium for “Strength” and “The Fool”…you get the idea.
I don’t mean to talk like I write everything, because I definitely don’t. I’m the primary arranger of the songs, and I write most of the main melodies and chord progressions, and do some work on the “feel” of the drums and occasionally have a specific riff I want the guitars to do. That aside, Heinrich re-arranges all of the guitar parts as he sees fit, and that adds a really good depth to everything when the guitars aren’t just block chords supporting the main melody. Heinrich also writes entire sections here and there, the whole big 4/4 middle section in TSTMTS I remember him writing on tour, and I think he put together the pre-chorus in the emperor, the clean guitar solo break in strength, and a bunch of other parts I’m not thinking of right this second. Heinrich and Donny both write their solos-through occasionally with a suggestion from me about a specific note I think we should hit at a certain time. Donny wrote the entire acoustic passage in Temperance, and several of the breakdowns all over the album (that djenty motherfucker). Tyler takes the boring fake drums I give him and really plays life into it all. And then of course, we all talk about every part of every song a good bit-even if it’s just like “hey here’s the direction I’m taking this, does this sound good to everyone?”, I try to make sure if I’m delusional about something sounding good but actually it sucks, I give the dudes the chance to tell me it sucks.”
Heinrich: “Well, our usual process is that Jake will bang out a skeleton of a song or theme, with particular chord progressions/melodies along with some orchestral stuff. He’ll show that to me, and, save for certain riffs here and there, I’ll take the idea and turn it into something more suitable for guitar. We usually end up keeping the original idea in the backing tracks. Stylistically? I’d say that my guitar parts just kinda sound the way they do after spending enough time listening to my guitar heroes from back in high school.”
Donny: “I think we all like really crazy different music from just metal. I really dig Fusion, Funk, Blues, and Jazz music, so I think that comes across in my playing. I wanted every solo I played to be of a different genre and I don’t know how we make that work, but it’s definitely due to Jake’s ability to compose and organize a song.”
How does the process of an Æther Realm track come together? Do you all bring parts to the table and piece them together or does one person primarily do the basic structure and then it is added onto? How do lyrics come into play?
Jake: “Usually I get an idea for a really good riff or something while I’m at work, and I’ll try to sing it into my phone if I worry about forgetting it. Then I go into Logic 9 as soon as I can and plunk out the idea with 2 zither tracks representing the melody and chord structure-usually these end up being the basis for the guitar parts, but sometimes they just end up being choirs or something if song calls for the guitars to do something different. Anyways, when I’ve got a completed idea, sometimes I’ll add choirs and strings and maybe piano or some other logic sample bit to start trying to make it sound “big”, and then I’ll do some fake drums that are just in line with the general feel of what I think I want. Then if I don’t have anything else immediately, I’ll save it with a name like “Wintersunripoff4.logic” or “Donnydoesbodomvolume2.logic” or whatever. I call it “making a deposit to the riffman’s bank”. When a song is REALLY coming together, whether due to just having time to knuckle down or whatever, I’ll start thinking about whether I need to make any withdrawals and spend the riffs in a song.”
Heinrich: “Like I was saying, Jake will have the main idea and I, for all intents and purposes, am a Riff Transmutation Machine™️ (at least with this album), having my own riffs, solos, and bits kind of sprinkled in here and there. Then Donny will come in and emphasize certain sections (dude has killer technique across the board) and lay down his amazing solos (and sexy flamenco breaks!). Tyler always does a wonderful job in breathing some great life into our relentless, mechanical sounding MIDI drums. Then we listen to the songs a billion times, gradually streamlining and improving parts until we get to point where it’s like, “yeah, this sounds good…I think?”
Donny: “Most of the time Jake will have this insane riff that he wants us to play, then we tell him it’s pretty much impossible, and then Jake just says, “Too bad”
Did you think you had something to prove with the 2nd album? Did you scrap songs in favor of other to make it to the album?
Jake: “Well “The Magician” didn’t make it due to sheer length of the album-it would be on it if we could afford to do a double album. A lot of riffs didn’t make it, but no like really full songs or anything. We did a good job weeding out the shitty stuff in the initial writing process I think.
I did have something to prove-to myself more than anything. I can remember considering giving up on “The Sun, The Moon, The Star” last year, there were just so many pieces I couldn’t figure out how to make work, just a very discouraging time. I wanted to prove to myself that creating something grandiose isn’t some magic power reserved for a privileged few-it’s just sticking with your idea for a very long time and not giving up on it.”
Heinrich: “Of course, we felt like we had to top the quality of our first release, which, for us at this point (spending WAY too much time with “One Chosen…..”), didn’t /seem/ like too much of a challenge. As far as songs that made it onto the album, there are definitely a handful of /parts/ that we ended up scrapping. Nevertheless, parts that could very well manifest themselves in a different context in future songs!”
Donny: “Well, I wasn’t on the old album so I had to kind of do something… and it happened to be breakdowns. Also, Heinrich’s solo phrases are really cool to me, so I kind of had to step it up just to keep up with him, and Taylor Washington’s guest solo spot made me reevaluate what I had written for the album.”
As a genre tag, I would probably say you a melodic death/folk metal….. is that accurate to you or do you prefer another description?
Jake: “Good enough for me! Just been calling it metal lately-but honestly call us whatever you think will get your friends to listen to us. I think we made our genre “memes” in our mp3s? Who cares, it’s just metal.”
Heinrich: “Yeah, you know. Memes. Dubstep.”
Donny: “I think so. People that like bands in that same tag can dig us.”
You ran an incredibly successful crowdfund campaign for the new album….. what do you think it succeeded so well? What are the pros and cons of crowdfunding in your opinion?
Jake: “Well I like to think that it shows when you put a lot of effort into something…but that isn’t always enough. We had an album already out, we’ve toured a lot, and we were just honest with our friends and fans. We’d have done this album either way, but with the Indiegogo support we were able to do it before I went totally off the deep end!
Pros – we were able to do the album right away, and I’m a very impatient person
Cons – I’m hopelessly unorganized, and it’s a HUGE commitment-I’m still working on shipping perks out. It’s difficult to have a handle on something this size and work full time. It’s a weird kind of double life.”
Heinrich: “Easy—our friends/fans are awesome! Really, though, people can say what they want about crowdfunding, but at the end of the day, it’s just preordering stuff. It’s a godsend for bands like us that don’t necessarily have readily available funds to put towards projects such as Tarot. Projects that would not have otherwise come to fruition for who knows how long. People have every right to not want to spend money on something in which they won’t receive instant gratification; however, we are very humbled and thankful to have people that trust our vision enough to want to back us—we love you!”
What band(s) do you think are the biggest influence in the AE sound or at least direction you want to head in?
Jake: “Been learning a lot from Chris Bowes of Alestorm and Matt Bell of Troldhaugen about the art of writing good music (hey catch us all on tour in Europe in September and October!) I don’t really have bands that I’m explicitly trying to sound like, just certain sounds that I hear in my head at different points. I love Wilderun, Wintersun, Soilwork, Bodom…all the metal bands you’d expect. Also, Heinrich’s been getting me into more electronic music – Jade Cicada, Porter Robinson, Madeon, Tipper. I’ve always loved pop – Ke$ha, Flo Rida, Katy Perry. Been digging some Dungeon Synth stuff lately – Gloom Sepulchre, Forlorn Citadel, Old Tower.
Basically, just want the music to always be in the spirit of adventure-however that sounds.”
Heinrich: “Basically, what you’d expect. Wintersun, Ensiferum, Kalmah, Equilibrium…I’m sure that nobody would be surprised to know that we admire all of these bands. For me, though, bands like At The Gates, The Black Dahlia Murder, and The Faceless have some of my favorite riffs/rhythms out there. Nobuo Uematsu (the Final Fantasy series) has always been my favorite composer. Uh, past that, I’ve spent the past several years falling down the electronic music hole, so some of that definitely found its way into the album.”
How is the metal scene in your hometown area of Greenville, North Carolina? Are there other folk metal or other metal acts you tend to play with more often than not?
Jake: “Growing up it was different than it is now. I loved Heinrich’s old band Nat Turner and the Slave Rebellion, and our old guitarist Jack’s band Blue Destroy. This great dude Jeff Blinder was doing a lot to keep interesting bands touring through town, and he’s up in Philly now. There isn’t a ton of *folk* metal near us, we mostly just link up with bands from farther north doing stuff, though we’ve played with all kinds of good folk metal bands on tours. Wilderun, Valfreya, Distoriam, Sekengard, Fenris, Adavant…tons of good stuff happening all over the US if you’re down to go deep.”
Heinrich: “It’s been a while since we’ve had a hometown rager. The metal scene — really, the music scene as a whole — was (is) incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to local, live music. The Spazzatorium was this super intimate venue, and honestly, a family when it came down to it. I remember seeing Revocation when they were touring Empire of the Obscene…there were maybe ten people at that show (it was sick). That community still thrives, and Jeff Blinder (the man) keeps the party going remotely in Greenville ALL OF THE WAY up in Philly! There weren’t really other folk metal bands anywhere near us…when we started off, we felt lucky to encounter people that were even familiar with the names of the bands we were listening to.”
Donny: “It’s fun because recently a friend of mine, Leif Hansen, fantastic tattoo artist, is having shows in his Tattoo shop and paying for other venues to host bands. The whole thing is a tax write off for him, and he loves going to shows. It’s a win win for him and anyone from Greenville, NC.”
How did the partnership with Primitive Ways records come about?
Jake: “Been working with Laura since the first demo. She was a mentor during my brief stint in college, I radio DJ’d for the college station late at night. We glued together the sleeves for the first AR demo on her floor. She works hard, she knows I work hard, we both want to be proud of a good product, it’s a good relationship.”
You have had some pretty decent tours recently with a European tour in September and October just announced with Alestorm and Troldhaugen….. how did this come about?
Jake: “Ha, I wish I could say anything else, but we’re just friends with them! Elliot has liked us for a while, and Chris came out to a show in TN one time, we became friends and they asked us to come along. I guess it helps that we’re pretty independent and have toured on our own a good bit-they tell us what their expectations are and we fulfill them and have a fun time doing it!”
Donny: “We’ve always done better by making friends than we ever have by making enemies.”
Is downloading your music for free anything that you concern yourselves with or is it going to happen no matter what?
Jake: “I can’t stop it, and I’m glad people like us. I hope that anyone that REALLY likes us understands that voting with your wallet is the way to lift up the artists you want and it allows them to continue creating.”
Heinrich: “It’s very important to support your favorite artists by going to their shows and buying merch! That being said, I was definitely the lil’ metal nerd with no money to throw at his favorite acts putting out the latest and greatest (head)bangers, so…I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s a cool feeling that people want to listen to our music at all, and I’d encourage those people to come check out a show when they can!”
Donny: “I think it’s funny, because we don’t really see ourselves as being big enough of a band that people would really want our music that bad, but it’s kind of a weird compliment. Like, I didn’t think we were good enough for someone to torrent our songs.”
Favorite tunes from 2016 and 2017 so far?
Jake: “Mexico – Alestorm, Get the Fuck Out of My House – Troldhaugen, The Ride Majestic – Soilwork, Too Easy – Futuristic, Pay No Mind – Madeon, Polygon Dust – Porter Robinson”
Heinrich: “Man, I don’t know. Porter Robinson & Madeon’s “Shelter” is an important track for me.”
Donny: “Metal wise, I can’t stop jamming Slaughter to Prevail’s Misery Sermon album. Animals as Leaders’ The Madness of Many album is killer, and Coma Ecliptic by Between the Buried and Me is a masterpiece”
Donny: “Drink Beers.”