It’s been quite a year for the New York City extreme metal underground. Krallice have just recently put out their second effort of the year, Imperial Triumphant are on the brink of unleashing their sophomore statement, and Samuel Smith has just put out his third (yes, THIRD) contribution in four months. He played guitar for Aeviterne's The Ailing Facade and bass for Luminous Vault's Animate The Emptiness and Artificial Brain's long awaited third full-length self-titled. That's a lot of raw material for one paragraph, and with so much quantity, one would expect either saturation or lack of originality, but so far there’s none of that. With each title expounding on its own universe, shape and musical language, there's not one of these three records that leaves you wishing for more. If anything, they leave you wanting to listen again and again, and you can’t put a price on that.
Artificial Brain's self-titled was the most recent of all three and it certainly holds its own magnitude. If not for being the band's first effort in five years or for brilliantly signaling the end of an era for the guys - with the subsequent departure of singer Big Will - then maybe the significant compositional and conceptual growth itself should be reason enough to celebrate this death metal tour-de-force. With this being said, a conversation with bassist and guitarist Samuel Smith quickly became of the most urgent urgency, especially now at the wake of Artificial Brain's first ever European tour in july (with Devoid of Thought) and Aeviterne's North-American tour (alongside Hissing and Suffering Hour) in september. The conversation spanned from the array of projects Samuel’s been involved this year, his style of playing and what the future has in store for him.
I guess the primary reason why I really wanted to make this happen was to celebrate and applaud the astounding effort that was Artificial Brain’s most recent self-titled record. But the truth is you were involved in at least two more records (so far as I’m aware of, or at least until another Fawn Limbs release): Aeviterne’s The Ailing Facade and Luminous Vault’s Animate The Emptiness. With this said, I’d like to start off this conversation by asking how has this year been for you so far?
Samuel - This year has been great, thank you! All of these records have been a long time in the making, so to finally have them all out in the world within such a short period of time has been really exciting and gratifying. We’re all very happy about the way they’re being received, and I can’t ask for much more than that.
How are you able, in terms of creative output, to be present in so many fronts, manage the rehearsals, the schedule, the creative process? It sounds exhaustive, especially if you have a day job and don’t make a living out of music, but how would you say things differ between all of your projects?
S - I think that, somewhat ironically, the infeasibility of making money playing this kind of music has created a situation (particularly in expensive cities like NYC) in which musicians are less likely to dedicate all of their time to a single project – that many of the musicians around here, unburdened of the possibility of any of their bands becoming commercially successful, just want to be involved in lots of different artistic pursuits. The way that this works for my bands is that one will have a period of high activity followed by months without rehearsals, then another will ramp up, etc. It’s rare that all of my projects are writing/rehearsing/recording at the same time. When Artificial Brain started out, we would rehearse 3-5 times a week – we would write in the room together, get everything tight together, etc. Artificial Brain probably only has 1-2 rehearsals before shows now, and Luminous Vault operates in a similar fashion. Now, we rely on each other doing some homework, sometimes even on the creative end. Aeviterne is a bit more involved, because we’re still figuring out how some of these songs will be performed live. Many of them feature more than two guitar tracks, so there is significant rearrangement to be done when new songs are added to the set, which takes more discussion and rehearsal.
Besides releasing AB’s first record in five years, I’d say the European tour was by far the biggest surprise you had in store. I’d be going out on a limb and say that I don't think anybody was expecting it. Why did it take so long for the band to take this massive step? Was it something you’ve been wishing for a while now?
S - We’ve been trying to get to Europe for years now, but we’ve had multiple plans fall through, unfortunately. It seems as though it’s difficult to get over there for a first tour, before promoters are confident that your band can draw in this unfamiliar territory – and I think some touring bands are a bit wary, as well. Touring Europe has been one of our major goals since the inception of the band, so it’s a very big deal for us to finally be able to do this. We were determined to make it happen, and we’re so excited that we found such appropriate touring partners in Devoid of Thought.
Going back to AB’s most recent self-titled, it’s easy to say it’s by far the band’s most expansive effort to date. It feels converging, cadent and textured like a conclusion, but also much more invigorating and with plenty of refreshing new ideas and soundscapes, much like the beginning of a new chapter. Was it initially thought out as the completion of the trilogy or was it something you found perfectly timed and appropriate after parting ways with Big Will? Do you look/feel the record with that “transitory” undertone?
S - The intention was always to have this record be the final installment of a trilogy, actually. We parted ways with Will before the recording began, but after the songs had been written, and so the way that the lyrics developed gave the record this additional reflective/retrospective sense. I do think of it as a transitory record, yes. While we’ve looked at it as a kind of culmination of what we’ve been doing in the past, there’s certainly some new elements here that we want to experiment with further, whether those are sonic, structural, etc. I think, even though these ideas were set into motion before the lineup change, this transitional, cyclical sense is absolutely reflected in the artwork, as well.
So far you’ve had Paulo Paguntalan from Miasmatic Necrosis briefly stepping in for some initial US dates, and have now been working more often with Inter Arma’s Mike Paparo. Can you tell me if the search for a permanent voice is still ongoing or is Mike in it for the long run?
S - We haven’t made any kind of permanent decision about a vocalist, at this point. We feel very lucky to have such talented friends who are willing to step in and help out, though! Paulo represents some continuity for us, as he appears on all of our records, he has always filled in for us on Canadian dates, and brings a vocal sensibility that is somewhat akin to Will’s (not to mention his vast arsenal of strange sputtering noises and animalistic shrieks). It was amazing to have him step in for those shows, as he is one of our favorite people in the world, but he is focusing his attention fully on Miasmatic Necrosis, at this point. Performing with Mike is something new for the band, and that’s been really invigorating. He projects extremely well, and he’s got this incredibly emotive style that highlights the more black metal elements of our sound. He also has a huge range, and his versatility opens up a lot of possibilities for the band. We’re not actively searching for a vocalist, at this point – right now we’re just considering what’s interesting for us and what feels good.
Whichever record you’ve been involved with, it’s safe to say you’re an impressive musician. On top of that, you’re also playing with plenty of other impressive musicians. How important is it for you to admire the drummers, guitarists, bass players you share the stage with? Do you think that’s a crucial element in pushing the music beyond its limits?
S - Thank you! It’s extremely important for me, and I’m very lucky to play music with people I truly do admire. I think it’s important because, in reference to what we talked about earlier w/ limited rehearsal time, you need to be able to trust that your bandmates will be prepared, and will make contributions to the music that you believe in. Maybe more importantly, though, I want to be around people I can learn from. When I’m working on music now, I hear Mario from Luminous Vault talking about being careful to arrange voices in registers such that they can speak most clearly; I hear Ian from Aeviterne discussing song structure, keeping control of momentum, and building towards a focal point; I hear Dan from Artificial Brain talking about voice-leading and building contrasting melodic lines. As far as this being important to pushing the music beyond its limits, I think that it is. The intended audience for my contributions to these records is often my bandmates – that admiration is inspiring and intimidating in the most constructive ways.
Oftentimes, when listening to Artificial Brain, I sense that you play the bass with a guitarist's approach, while with Aeviterne it’s the opposite - you play the guitar with a bassist’s approach. Does any of this make any sense? Or do you actively search to get out of your comfort zone?
S - You’re right on the former point, I’d say. I had never seriously played bass prior to joining Artificial Brain; I was a guitarist, first and foremost. I carried a very melodic sensibility with me to the bass guitar, less functional/foundational. This, looking back at my previous work with the band, has been a mixed bag. I think when I’ve been able to find pockets with space for melodic lines and more over-the-top ideas, that this approach has yielded some interesting results. Perhaps less so elsewhere. I think (or hope) that my playing on the self-titled record is an incorporation of this style I’ve been developing into a more functional bass framework – that I’ve become more of a bassist and less of a guitarist who plays bass. As far as my contributions to the Aeviterne record, much of the guitar material was written prior to my joining the band. My input on guitar was limited to small ideas, transitional elements, etc. Funny enough, I contributed more bass ideas to that record than anything – so the “bassier” guitar playing you’re hearing is pretty much all Garett’s writing.
I’ve always found Artificial Brain to be criminally underrated. Sort of like a local cult-status act that would never be deservedly recognized. I think that changed a bit with this record, and from what I’ve seen from the online community and plenty of fellow listeners, I think you’re finally getting the recognition you deserve. As someone who’s gone countless times through the process of writing, rehearsing, recording, releasing, promoting, tell me what’s your reaction to the reception of AB’s recent record?
S - We are blown away by the reception of this new record, honestly. As I’ve told several fans recently, we weren’t sure that people would still be interested in the band after a five year period in between records, and with the saturation of “dissonant” death metal bands in the scene. We worked extremely hard on this music, through sometimes difficult circumstances, so to have such a warm reception means a great deal.
Last two questions! What are the plans that you can tell me right now, for all of your bands?
S - Artificial Brain is, of course, touring Europe this month with Devoid of Thought. We’re also working on some North American dates, still to be announced, and we’re also working hard on an EP. Aeviterne is doing a short North American tour in September with Suffering Hour and Hissing. Luminous Vault will be performing live again in the fall, as well, and we hope to begin working on new material soon.
And wrapping it up. Stuff you’ve been listening to lately, anything goes!
Maggot Heart - Mercy Machine
Reveal! - Doppelherz
Camberwell Now - All’s Well
Sinister - Diabolical Summoning
Public Image Ltd. - The Flowers of Romance