Chad Radford: Why did you guys stop playing for a while?
Jacob Franklin: Our other guitar player JJ Hodge had a child and moved out of the city in 2008 to live in Hiram. At the same time — after Sins and Light — Spencer Ussery, our drummer Zach Richards, and I moved to Oregon, around the Eugene area. We ended up coming back to drop off our car, and we had some problems with the place where we were staying and couldn’t return, and were stuck here. We’d left our jobs and everything so we lived in a minimal sustenance kind of situation to keep playing music. We started recording the things we’d written before we left, and JJ was a part of that, but still had to tend to his family. Incorporating some of the newer alternative rock sounds we’d written for Light didn’t really feel like us — more like our last attempt to keep this group together.
Separating from JJ and then from Spencer, in the Irreversible context, left time for other projects that we’ve been working on. Billy and I had produced a few things together, so I recruited him, and then Zach has drummed for Irreversible from the beginning, so we started up again and have been writing as a three-piece.
What was it that made you want to get this group back together?
Billy Henis: Quite a few different things, actually. Drifting away from JJ created an energy that needed to be filled somehow. We stayed friends with him, but he’s involved heavily with a church down where he lives …
JF: It’s a fundamentalist, Christian, Evangelical, Southern, Baptist church. Working as a three-piece is new for us, but Zach, Billy, and I all have a lot in common. We’ve all known each other for 6 to 8 years now and more closely relate to than how we did with Spencer, and particularly with JJ and the church/family/Christian life thing. That has nothing to do with any of the values that we met upon as hardcore kids. It’s almost out of obligation that we assert ourselves, not even for social reasons, but because it feels personally relieving to create music without that influence and continue to push against it with art in an abstract way.
… It’s almost ironic that you made an album called Sins.
BH: We touch on that on the new EP. When we first made the decision to do this, we actually saw him up on the stage, denouncing his past and the “mistakes” he’s made, and there’s no way to not take that personally. When you share a past with someone, and it’s the kind of thing that you lived through with a person, and thought all of these musical experiences helped each other grow and figure out who you are and what you want to do. To see him turn around and just kind of shit on that just a few years later was not the best feeling.
It’s all on the album, and it’s there for anybody who knows the situation, and can read between the lines. It’s decipherable.
You grew up in the hardcore scene?
JF: Yeah, that’s how we all met. Billy’s form South Gwinnett, I’m from northeast Gwinnett, Zach’s form Marietta, and JJ is from Woodstock — Atlanta is where we came to be around people who aren’t like the robotic, idiotic clone people that you find in the suburbs. It was novel and great to have an alternative to the typical high school-college-job-marry-reproduce lifestyle that JJ has now fully embraced.
As far as the lyrics go, they aren’t a hate mantra directed at one person, it’s just an assertion of out position.
BH: … Or more like a reassertion of our position. Anyone who knows us, knows how strongly we were tied to JJ. The break up was never really a thing that happened. It was more of a dormancy and a tapering off of activity, and then the next thing everyone hears is that this one guy is doing what he’s doing, and he’s been highly associated with this group. That was the catalyst for everything we’d always felt, but we had a new need to reassert and let people know where we stand as far as all of that goes.
JF: Doing so with the sound — it’s not an egotistical thing. We just sort of feel the sound out and deliver it. Whatever we’re feeling is how the music comes through us. But it does feel empowering and relieving to assert that we’re still who we’ve been the whole time.
Jacob, do you still play with Isness?
JF: Me and Zach both do. There are two triangles that mirror each other. Zach and I are members of both Isness with Spencer Ussery, and we are members of Irreversible with Billy.
BH: The energies of both are similar in that they exist in the same cross over place, but the polarities are different. Isness is Spencer’s lighter, more fun personality, and Irreversible has my more intense, dark type of energy to bring to everything. But I think Zach and Jacob bring the same type of energy to Isness that they bring to Irreversible. Like when the first Big Jesus came out I could tell it was Zach and Jacob.
None of you play in Big Jesus any more, right?
JF: No, one by one, first Me, then Zach, and now Spencer have withdrawn from that project. It’s actually been left to the original Irreversible bass player, CJ. It’s kind of his main project now.
This is all very incestuous.
JF: Yeah, like most bands in the city …
How old are you guys?
JF: We’re both 25. Zach is too.
I hear that you’re banned from playing at the Drunken Unicorn, but that it’s a misguided thing …
BH: I’m glad this is going to be on the record …
JF: Apparently Zach and one our former bass players who shall remain unnamed went to a party one night and some people got into a fight with a guy who does sound at the Drunken Unicorn. The thing that sucks about this is that we used to love playing MJQ back in the day. Matt Northpoint who worked the door there, and is working there again, put out our record Age. He’s a good friend of ours and he always put on these great shows for us, and Lewis Lovely was our favorite sound guy — always made us sound fucking killer.
BH:Some idiot, and we don’t know who, threw a bottle at Louis’ girlfriend who was riding by on her bike. Louis, wasn’t trying to start anything, but like any normal human being stopped and said, “What’s going on?” That’s when a bunch of idiots jumped him. Zach was there, but he wasn’t involved. I don’t know what what our ex-bass player's involvement was …
JF: … I think he was physically involved, which made it, for Louis, a matter of, “You and your band, are no longer welcome at the venue where I work.” A year later we’re like, “We’re sorry about that incident, and that bass player is no longer in the band.” He’s like, “Well, Zach was there and he didn’t do anything to help …” So there are all sorts of arguments about who’s side he should have taken. We’re still apologizing every once in a while, just to see if it’s open, but the last thing they said to us was “banned for life!”
We play the Earl and Apache and Vinyl and Masquerade, and we used to love playing MJQ and the Drunken Unicorn … It’s kind of a sentimental thing. It would be nice to play there again, where we used to do play every season.
You could probably capitalize on it in some way, like the old Bad Brains T-shirts “Banned in D.C.”
JF: “Banned on Ponce shirt … I like that”
Some off the record talk here led us into a discussion about E. Elias Merhige’s 1990 experimental horror film, Begotten.
JF: When you see a movie like that it’s easy to think that it’s a movie that someone found somewhere. Like Trash Humpers by Harmony Korine. That’s another great one that’s like a badge of honor if you can make it through it. But with Begotten I feel like when most people see it they think it’s stupid, but it does say something, and an experience that will stay with you …
… It’s one of the most disturbing films that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve said that I don’t need to see it again.
BH:: That’s sort of what we aim for with our music. I was playing some of the new tracks for a friend and he said, I like it, but I know that it’s an experience, and you need to know what came before it to know why it makes sense to take you here.
JF: There’s never any stops; everything has to be contextualized as one digest for every album, regardless of who’s been writing on it. I think it’s parallel to all of the themes of drone, or breathe work, or drumming, or any other kind of entrancing ritual where you’re purposefully going from A to B while having to tolerate every extreme and every experience along the way. I remember kind of experiencing this when I would see bands like Zoroaster or Subrig Destroyer. Just being in the presence of such volume and having to make it through this time, and this harshness. It’s just like those movies. I started digesting it and using different parts of my brain that I would not have noticed during my everyday waking life. They take you on a ride, and if you trust them as artists you’ll let them do it, and I think that’s who our music is for: People who trust us to take them on this ride.
Does getting people to trust you become an obstacle?
JF: I have no idea. My musical taste is so narrow and limited that I don’t think of it as how it effects the world. I bring forth a lot of riffs and Zach adds rhythm, and he [points to Billy] adds production to it, and it all just goes wherever.
Do you think about how it’s perceived by listeners?
BH: Yeah, I go crazy in my head about it, but then realized that at the end of the day I can’t give a fuck. What we do comes from not just us, and we really are producing the music for our friends and ourselves.
JF: That might be limiting in terms of how many people can really understand it, but it’s rewarding enough to feel worth it.
BH: By friends he doesn’t mean not just people who know us, but people who are in the same headspace as us and want to open themselves up to an experience like what we do. I know that there are a lot of people who don’t want to do that, which is fine. Listening to music in a casual way is fine. But there are others who want to obsess over the nuances of each guitar part, what each sample comes from and how each part fits together, and find the connections to other albums that came before it. That’s who we’re making music for.
Jacob: Nerds [laughs].
What about musical influences?
BH: I’d say it can be narrowed down to three on this band: Jacob is very into Godflesh and that sort of heavy guitar tone. Zach loves Meshuggah and that style of technical intensity, and I’ve always been into creepy, gothy industrial music. Nine Inch Nails. But there’s a whole other sphere if influences. David Lynch has been a huge influence.
It’s interesting to talk about Irreversible from a cinematic perspective, because a filmic experience is a strong component to your music.
JF: Lost Highway is one of or favorite films, but David Lynch’s entire body of work. When you hear David Lynch talk, he’s really upbeat; dark, but funny, and that’s kind of how we are, but when you hear our music it might suggest the opposite.
BH: David Lynch’s films are some of the darkest, most disturbing, and most fucked up shit you’re going to see, and a lot of people want to skim the surface, and turn away from the darkness, which is generally just a reflection of yourself. But by turning away it creates a dissonance between these forces — I don’t want to compare us to David Lynch, but people like us are forced to plumb the depths. Bring these things out that have to be brought to the surface.
When you hear David Lynch talk, he’s been a huge devotee of transcendental meditation for years. He’s a very pure artist and he doesn’t let people taint his work, which might be why his stuff has been such a commercial failure, but he has longevity. He makes artistic merit his life.
JF: He’s plumbing the shadow and bringing forth darkness not for the sake of being dark, but for revealing as an exercise. He says art is like diving down and bringing forth something to people. It’s not from you, but you deliver it.
… Another influence on us that’s important to talk about is Alan Moore. His has a series that we all got into together called Neonomicon — it’s a modern day Lovecraft tale with references to people who are working members of ceremonial magical groups, like Alester Crowley, Kenneth Grant. He’s also written the intro to the biography of Austin Osman Spare — Kenneth Grant writes about people who by doing things that are completely against the whole model Christian life, methods of intoxicology, sexuality, everything that’s inverted form the Church, go into these domains to bring forth this beautiful, vibrant imagery that’s very impacting to read. I trust Alan Moore’s work a lot. He’s a huge influence.
Do you think that people have rejected your works because it places too many demands on them?
We talk about a lot of things that maybe make people mad, but we’re never pointing a finger at anyone, were just pointing out that people have these ideas, and these thoughts are out there if you’re open to investigate them. There’s also the thing that comes along with abandoning a particular social group, like if you leave the Church you’re suddenly seen as a Satanist, or if you leave straightedge hardcore you’re automatically a drug user. The more people you leave behind, a judgmental thing happens where they push you further away, but really it just kind of makes you and your friends come together stronger, and that’s kind of a cohesive strategy for art.
BH:: We have to admit that we were guilty of it ourselves. This band started out as a hardcore band, and then when the flipped up the script, things started changing, Jacob came into the band, and people had these ideas about us. So we were like, “We’re definitely not a hardcore band, we don’t want anything to do with hardcore, and we’re not playing any venues where hardcore bands play.” Looking back on it now I think that was kind of foolish of us to do. We kind of still are hardcore kids. It’s how we all became friends, and the strongest, most lasting friendships we’ve made came from hardcore.
JF: It kind of sifts you out though. Leaving hardcore, we ended up in the electronic music scene somewhat, but then realized that we don’t want to eat Molly and Phish-out on a festival ground somewhere. We’re not happy hippies.
Hardcore is very Catholic in its devotion to rules, ideologies, and guilt. It’s very much teenage construct …
JF: Yeah, it’s what we did in high school instead of sports pretty much; all of our aggression and manly, patriarchal systems that were being setting up and moved around within the hierarchical model — something to get it all out of your system.
BH: There are things like pride and honor and respect that people need to learn, but the ways a lot of those values are extracted n hardcore are kind of foolish.
JF: Any belief system where you’re not supposed to question anything makes me uncomfortable.
Final thoughts on Ashes?
BH: Conceptually we’re calling this an interquel between the flow of Sins and the album Light.
BH: I have this tendency to do all of these overarching crazy themes in my head about how everything fits together. To me there’s almost a parallel between different occult and philosophical practices that all kind of point to the same thing: The process and steps of development. To me, the way that everything came together, and the flow from where we started, Ashes is like the missing chapter to fit everything together. Sins, the experience was like a burning, blackening process of taking yourself and your thoughts and burning them up into crucible, and seeing what’s left after that?
JF: I remember we all had terrible attitudes in 2007. That’s where we got a lot of the Sins influences from. Just trying psychedelics without any sort of knowledge of what we were doing. I guess we hadn’t read enough books yet. That opened this idea that everything is predetermined and connected on this scale that we can’t conceive, therefore it must all be meaning less, and all we can do is writhe in pain about that, I guess. We were 22 then and we’ve grown a lot since then. So I guess Ashes is the continuation of that path without jumping all the way to the ’90s technical sound that we had with Light. Ashes gives everything resolution in a much better way than what Light did.
*Christ, Lord sorry
"Punk" style like this seems like it is the polar opposite of punk. Bradford Cox…
They're kind of starting to look like a joke of themselves. Song's good though.
All 80s movies want you...
Their show with Chris, Lord about 3 years at the Unicorn was the best.
I am a connoisseur of this real soul music like the comment above I'm glad…