[IMGLEFT]http://www.russell.ultimatemetal.com/Interview/agalloch.jpg[/IMGLEFT]By Zack Attaran From the beginning, speed has not been Agalloch’s maxim. Perfection, rather, takes the forefront, and loyal fans will wait dutifully until that status has been reached for a release date to be announced... sometimes, up to five years. Hailing from the American Pacific Northwest, this group is having a stellar year. They’ve released their very well received follow up to The Mantle, Ashes Against the Grain, toured Europe and among other things, made some killer wine. UM recently caught up with John Haughm I’d like to start with Agalloch’s decision to start playing live. Do you enjoy it? Are you happy with your turnout? What typically makes it into the setlist? We had always been curious as to whether or not we could pull it off…but in the beginning it wasn’t really a huge priority. Trying to get gigs when you are a new, unheard-of band is more of a hassle than it is worth. Plus we didn’t have a permanent drummer anyway. We just focused on writing material and making demos and eventually albums. After releasing “The Mantle” we were in a much better situation to try playing live so we eventually found Chris Greene, started rehearsing, and, well, you know the rest. By gaining a strong following with the first two albums, it made it much easier to book our first show at a very nice venue and have a turnout which made our first gig more special. I think this approach was the most logical one. Playing live with our material can be extremely enjoyable and it can be a nightmare. We rely too much on the on-stage sound, especially what is heard through the monitors. It is getting easier to adapt as we gain experience but we still struggle if the sound on stage is not decent. Our last show in San Francisco was a perfect example of a fucking disaster… How have your songs translated into the live setting? It depends on the song. Of course songs like ’Dead Winter Days’ and ’Falling Snow’ translate perfectly in a live setting. We have tried others like ’The Melancholy Spirit’ and ’The Hawthorne Passage’ which haven’t translated so well. A song like ‘You Are But A Ghost In My Arms’ is nearly impossible because of the layering involved on the recording. We would need 3 guitarists and probably another vocalist to pull that one off. There are a few songs I would like to try in the future like ‘I Am The Wooden Doors’, ’The Great Cold Death Of The Earth’, and maybe even ’Fire Above, Ice Below’ and see how they work in a live setting. How did you decide which songs you were going to play live, and do you have to change the songs to make them work live? We just picked some of our favorites from the albums and tried them out. Some songs like ‘Of Stone, Wind and Pillor’ and ‘Odal’ worked really well and have remained on most of our setlists. Others like ‘The Melancholy Spirit’ we played live a couple times and then dropped. The only song we have drastically changed in some way was ‘In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion’. The middle part is different live. Although I have considered playing the album version, complete with the slow, dragging middle part maybe once or twice in the future… You’ll be embarking on a tour with Novembers Doom and Thurisaz this fall. Have you had any relations with these bands previously, and how did you set the tour up? Well obviously we have known Novembers Doom for awhile since they toured with us in 2004 when we supported The Gathering. We also played the Day Of The Equinox Fest 1 with them. I have a lot of respect for Novembers Doom and I have never seen a more determined band in my life. They would break someone’s legs and steal their car to make it to gig if they had to! They had so many problems with that RV yet they made it to every show on that brief ’04 tour – sometimes hours earlier than the rest of us did! I look forward to sharing a bus with them and Thurisaz. Also, we didn’t set up the tour. It is actually Novembers Doom’s tour. We are their main support band, which is perfectly fine with us. Are you nervous about touring Europe for the first time? Nope. Not even a little bit. Where are you looking forward to playing most? The Loppen club in Copenhagen looks interesting. I want to check out this strange “Christiania” district where the venue is located. All of the venues on the schedule look good. Of course I can’t wait to see the Czech Republic, Denmark, and Germany as I have a personal attraction to those cultures. I hope we can visit the bone chapel near Kutna Hora and I’d like to see the fountains in Brussels and the Weiße Rose monument in Munich. Every stop on this tour will be uniquely special as far as I’m concerned. Cinema and other forms of non-musical art have always been a main influence in Agalloch. What was inspiration for you non-musically during the writing process of “Ashes Against the Grain”? Pretty much what you said – cinema and non-musical art. Often I can simply look at a painting or a graphic design and suddenly an idea or riff will manifest itself in my head. The same can be said for the cinema, photography, traveling through a scenic area, etc. During the long writing process of “Ashes”, were there any drastically different versions of the songs that made it to the final cut? If so, what did the earlier versions sound like? In most cases they simply sound like less interesting versions of the final recorded stuff. One exception was ’Fire Above, Ice Below’ which, in my opinion, lost something in the transition from demo to album recording. The demo has a lot more acoustic guitar in the middle and the feeling is a bit colder overall than the version that ended up on the album. A lot of that can be attributed to the rougher demo production though. Obviously the feeling will change when a song is transformed from a 4 track demo to a 24 track recording. It is a delicate balance with the production as most of our songs are very different from each other. They need to be approached slightly different when recording them. However, it is not acceptable to have a different production for each song on an album so there has to be a compromise that makes up for, say, a song better suited for a colder, more raw sound verses a song which needs a bit of a warmer sound. The middle of ‘Fire Above, Ice Below’ is radically different on the album because during the recording process, with all of the new guitar layers and such, I felt that it was losing a lot of the darkness and coldness that was present on the demo. We had to change something to maintain some of that feeling so we approached the middle in a completely different way. Now that the process is all finished, looking back, what are some of your favorite moments on Ashes, musically or non-musically? I simply cannot look back on the recording in a positive way because the process was hell from start to finish. I’ve honestly never had such a horrid time in the studio in my life. Do you have any stories from the studio you’d like to share, or a personal favorite song off the CD? I guess there were a couple one-liners that were comical at best. Like when I was doubling a rhythm guitar part, which we had made recent changes to and I kept messing it up. Don turned to me and said “Dude, this the rhythm…match it or fuck off!” I don’t know why but it was really hilarious at the time and oddly therapeutic. I don’t really have any favorite songs from the album, as I tend to listen to it as a cohesive whole. How did the shooting of Not Unlike the Waves go? The shooting of the video was great. It was nice getting out in the woods and scenic areas near Portland to film it and we had an excellent time with the film crew. The footage that they shot was amazing. The editing process, which resulted in the “cut” version that has been “released”, however, is something I do not want to experience again. Frankly I do not consider the video to be finished and I hope we will get to make the full version…with a different editor. That short version was their cut that The End paid for to be aired on Mtv and other such commercial shit. I don’t care if it is aired. Actually I would prefer that it is not aired at all. I felt like our hands were tied during that process. I think the fast editing style is terrible, the cut of the song is beyond awful, and everything we hoped for is not present in it. All of the gorgeous, epic slow panning stuff was cut to hell. There are some things we specifically asked them not to use but they used anyway. We wanted a cinematic video and the editor instead made something which he perceived as “hip” and “cool”. It simply does not represent what WE wanted and the result does not do the footage justice. A real shame… What is Agalloch’s thought on the critic? Do you ever read reviews of your CDs, and do you take them with credibility? An artist cannot please everyone so the only opinion of Agalloch that matters is ours. We have to stick to our convictions and do what we want. The fanfare and the press cannot and should not influence that. We are fully aware that there are people out there who think we’re one the greatest bands on the planet and others who wish we’d split up and die. However, it is not my responsibility to please anyone but myself. The only time I got personally involved with a review was a few years ago when “The Mantle” first came out. This journalist gave the album an elaborate but terrible review where he likened the album to a fictional place called “dullsville”. So I emailed him and told him that there was actually a town just outside Portland called Boring. Boring, Oregon! It is a real town that I have driven through several times. I wasn’t angry about the review at all but I told him it was a shame that he didn’t know about Boring because he missed a brilliant opportunity to slam us with style. I think that is good example of how seriously I take criticism. Reviews in the press and public opinion overall really isn’t any of our business. Do you create any art other than music? I like to paint but unfortunately I haven’t had much time for it in the past couple years. I also like graphic design, which has been mostly dedicated to Agalloch’s albums, Eps, shirts, and promotional stuff for the past few years. My next project will be the new Sculptured album’s layout which is going to be a nice change. I also, along with my girlfriend, like to make exotic wines. So far we have several different types; everything from blueberry to dandelion, that are currently aging. What do you think of myspace as a promotion tool? As an artist promotional tool I think it is fine. Personally, however, I am not interested in nor attracted to the social concept of Myspace. Now that touring is more prevalent in Agalloch’s agenda, what are some places you’d like to be able to play? Well firstly I wouldn’t say that touring will be any more prevalent in the future than it is now. We are not a band that will ever become a “touring machine”. But if the right offer happens at the right time, then we’d play almost anywhere. We still have not actually played in New York City and we will be missing out on the UK date of the current tour so there’s some unfinished business for sure. Plus there is the rest of Scandinavia, Southern Europe, South America, and parts of Asia that could be interesting to visit. Thanks for your time! Do you have any closing words for your fans? Thanks for the interview and genuine interest. Official Agalloch Website Official The End Records Website Ultimate Metal’s Review of “Ashes Against the Grain" Ultimate Metal’s Review of “The Mantle"