Machine Music’s Albums of the Decade: An Interview with Rosetta
his is the 42nd installment of the Albums of the Decade series of interviews. For the rest of the series go HERE.]
Album: The Anaesthete
Favorite Song: “Ryu / Tradition”
The Bare Bones: The Anaesthete is the fourth full-length by Philadelphia post-metal outfit Rosetta, and the band’s first independent release following its departure from Translation Loss Records.
The Beating Heart: In the already amorphous, somewhat monotonous and some would say over-saturated post-metal landscape of the 2000s and 2010s Rosetta has carved a place for themselves that is both all their own – and entirely their own – as well as somehow producing what could be called the quintessential post-metal sound. They were as etherial as they were viscerally emotional, impossibly marrying a hardcore-esque passion with a sweeping, cinematic atmosphere. And whereas the band had really hit its stride with 2010s masterpiece The Determinism of Morality (the subject of our 2014 interview with the band) their following album seemed to break many of the foundations on which the band had laid for their compositional style. It was bleak, it was crushing, it was heavy, and still remains as a kind of outlier in the band’s catalogue. A moment of fierce destruction amid the band’s melodic legacy. Equally as important, moreover, it would prove to be not only the definitive statement of a “heavy,” hardcore/metal-driven Rosetta but also in many respects the swan song for that period of the band’s history, with its subsequent releases shifting progressively toward the etherial side of things.
In many ways The Anaesthete and The Determinism of Morality cannot be discussed in separation, the former serving as the yang to the latter’s ying, as was the case elsewhere in this interview series (some examples include, I think, Inter Arma’s Sky Burial and Paradise Gallows or Altar of Plague’s Mammal and Teethed Glory and Injury). And so there were two factors that led to my choosing to focus on The Anaesthete here: the fact that I had, in a way, talked to the band about Determinism and because of the unique position The Anaesthete has in the Rosetta repertoire, of a band that has always worn its emotions on its sleeves going for absolute emotional broke.
One last comment: in the time since my conversation with Rosetta guitarist Matt Weed another interview series about the 90s had sprung up and taken over. I mention this also because that series, which was still in preparation as I talked to Matt, played a wonderful complementary role to this specific conversation, with Matt mentioning some key entries such as Neurosis, Botch, and others still forthcoming. So if you’re into expanding on some of these issues you might find some interesting material there.
As usual before we get to my exchange with Matt this is my chance to encourage you to check out the rest of the Albums of the Decade series (and the rest of our interviews, including a news series about the great albums of the 90s) as well our new podcast (YouTube, Spotify and all that) and/or our latest compilation album MILIM KASHOT VOL.2. Also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, if you like what you see here (for whatever reason). Thank you for your time and support. On to Matt and Rosetta.
Do you remember a moment you had, perhaps as a younger person, that really changed what you thought about music? That scared you or shocked you? I’m assuming you may have had many of those, but one that sticks out.
This may be too melodramatic a term but I had an awakening in regards to music early in high school, around when I was 14 or 15 years old. I grew up listening to a lot of classical music, I didn’t really listen to pop or to the radio that much when I was a younger kid, I played the violin. When I was 14 I picked up the guitar and started learning it and was just learning to play punk songs, because that’s what my friends were into. And so I liked Green Day and stupid stuff like that – when I say “stupid” I don’t mean “bad,” I actually hold Green Day records in very high esteem, but it didn’t melt my brain at the time because this was the mid 90s and everything was alt-rock wall to wall, that’s just what everything was all the time. But I got interested in ordering some more obscure stuff through the mail that I couldn’t find in the stores – there wasn’t much of an independent record store scene in Philadelphia when I was in high school. So I ordered some stuff from Initial Records in Louisville, Kentucky, they had this big fest – that I of course wasn’t old enough to go to – called Krazy Fest and it had all this really weird hardcore, metalcore, extreme punk and they had compilation CDs that they would send out if you wrote to them. I wrote to them on notebook paper and asked for a catalogue and they sent a catalogue and I would mailorder stuff that I was introduced to by their compilation CDs – I’d wrap cash in notebook paper and just write on a piece of paper: “I want this and here’s the cash for it” and eight weeks later I would get a CD of whatever it was I ordered from them. And they were totally cool with it. I was 15, it’s not like I had a credit card or anything, and there weren’t any online stores yet – this is like 1996-7.
So as a result of that compilation and that mailorder thing I heard Botch, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Coalesce, Cave In, all in the same moment, just as those bands were coming out. They all had that metalcore sound but it didn’t really sound like any metal that I had ever heard before, just this blindingly crazy, otherworldly, weird time signatures. And so I guess I had mailordered and heard Botch’s American Nervoso, Coalesce’s Functioning on Impatience, the Converge/Agoraphobic Nosebleed split and then, a couple of years later, Dillinger’s Calculating Infinity. So when you’re talking about a visceral reaction, hearing those records at that point when my musial lexicon was mostly classical music, some of the folksy stuff that my parents listened to, and then alternative radio, which was all my friends were listening to, and then hearing Dillinger for the first time it was like: “What do you do to make these sounds?! What is happening here!?” And it was kind of aversive and it had this push-pull feeling that you’re not sure what to make of it but it’s so weird and there’s so much going on that you kind of keep returning to it to try and figure out different elements. That was pretty huge for me. This is before Napster but around the same time there was this new music piracy going on with the MP3 format around, and this is probably the thing that most dates me generationally – I used to download MP3 files from these sites and make cassette mixtapes by running an audio cable from my computer to a tape deck. Thinking back at that it makes me think that that’s the kind of thing that can only happen in two years of human history.
And so as a result of this explosion of weird hardcore bands I was introduced to the early ISIS stuff because Mosquito Control came out right about then. Escape Artist Records, which were run by Gordon Conrad who had worked at Relapse here and there. He ran Escape Artist out of his basement five miles from where I lived and so I could order stuff from Escape Artist directly and have it delivered to my house in like two days. So I bought everything from the Escape Artist catalogue, which included all the early ISIS stuff, cool melodic hardcore bands like Time in Malta, Burn it Down, which was straight Midwest hardcore. So it was like a cluster of these dramatic encounters that happened all at once. And when I look back on it it’s strange how most of those encounters happened offline. This is ten years before social media was really dominant and so that wasn’t a thing yet. I guess most people my age heard this stuff through file sharing but I actually got to hear it before file sharing got cranked up because I was ordering these CDs through the mail.
I think we’re of the same age more or less, because I have a similar story with some of these bands – also because of the file sharing. I did it to CD so I guess I was a little more sophisticated. I clearly remember the first time I downloaded an MP3. I heard about it, and I think until then I would just download these crappy Windows audio files and the first test MP3 was Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” and it took forever to download. But then I heard it and I was blown away. So, anway, I guess I’m dated too.
Yeah, I think my first MP3 was Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box.”
What’s interesting about all that is that, and you’ve said it yourself, the move from violin and pop punk to Botch, that’s a radical shift. Botch were radical for people who were used to radical music so I can’t imagine what it must have been like to jump right into that. Could you identify that part of you as an artist now with what shocked you then? When you were a kid being shocked by it you were basically just a kid being shocked by it. And so given that you’ve made music since and many other things, is there a vein you can trace whatever it was that was interesting for you about that to what you do now?
Yeah, and it’s oddly specific stuff. I think that because I picked up guitar and then was exposed to all this insane music right at the same time my goals for whatever it was I wanted to do with the instrument were informed…. Because, I picked up the guitar and starting doing pop punk but there’s so much you can do with power chords and then starting to hear this other stuff and kind of went: “Oh dude, the guy from Botch taps the fretboard and all this kind of stuff.” I actually saw Botch in a DIY-floor-show type of space maybe around the early 2000s, I was maybe 17 or 18 at the time. So this was a couple of years down the road and I was already going regularly to shows since it was all close by and seeing that they had a DIY lighting rig that took forever to set up and it didn’t work right. The show was running 90 minutes late or whatever for all these technical problems, but it was totally worth it. One of the most amazing live performances I have ever seen. There was no stage, the sound was coming directly from the amps and directly from the drum set, the vocals were barely audible. Seeing that kind of stuff at that point – I had a band with BJ [McMurtrie], the drummer for Rosetta at that point but Rosetta was still a few years down the line – it was like: “Oh, look at that guy! I want to do the fretboard tapping thing he does.” And of course all of the bands that I mentioned got into the odd-time-signature thing and they were all influenced by the prior generation of hardcore bands, they were all into Deadguy and the Melvins and the weird Godlfesh stuff too. So I think that when I started to write songs it was like: “Yeah, lt’s do this song in 5/4!”
We’d have a song, maybe it was a little boring, just a few chords and we’d go: “Let’s do it in 5/4 and see what happens!” It’s corny but I think that in a lot of the early stuff it because just a way for us to challenge ourselves and see how many curveballs we could through in there. Which was the case for a lot of hardcore bands in the late 90s – “Let’s just see how weird we can make this, how many time changes can we throw in here, how extreme can the tempo be?” But at the same time I think part of what happened was that we were consciously trying to throw all those curveballs into the music but unconsciously we were gravitating towards these serene melodies and these melodramatic, cinematic, sweeping types of sound, and there’s something that happened with the early Rosetta stuff where those two things are constantly in tension with one another. I think you can hear it pretty clearly in a song like “Europa” off of The Galilean Satellites, which is in 7/4 – it didn’t need to be in 7/4, we just put it in 7/4 – and it has this completely bananas drum part at the end just because BJ decided to go off and do something crazy. Or if you think of Wake/Lift, “Lift Part I” is also in 7/4 and it didn’t need to be in 7/4 and it also has a major time change, and guess what? “Lift Part III” is filled with fretboard tapping. Why was I into fretboard tapping? Botch.
So the commonality is that these are all technical things. It’s not like Rosetta ever had the ambition to sound like any of those bands, but because that was such a big part of my lexicon in terms of aesthetics and production and was it mean to be a “good” guitar player then it was those bands that were providing the guiding light. I guess in many respects a lot of Rosetta’s sound was borne out of this tension between these hardcore elements we all thought were fun and the more sweeping emotional aspects emerged more slowly. For me those maybe came from my classical background.
I have like 10 different things I want to say to that, but the main thing is what I see as your part in that tension. Because it seems to me that it’s quite obvious that…. You recently released the Ghost Lode EP [Matt’s solo project] and I heard that and I went: “Oh, that’s interesting! That’s just the melody part from Rosetta!” And so that kind of clarified for me your role in that tension. And once that thought, pun intended, coalesced then I was interested in finding the other pole in that tension. But before i get to that I just wanted to say that one of the recurring themes in these interviews, actually one of the reasons I’m even doing this project, was that I wanted to solve a problem I had in understanding the transition some bands made from hardcore to a more cathartic, sweeping, atmospheric music. Let’s call it the “Slint-Fugazi-Neurosis” conundrum. And I’ve gotten different answers to this question, some having to do with the lack of technical skill in punk that allows for people to get into music making, some had to do with the DIY thing. But what you’re saying is different, that when you were experimenting with throwing a wrench in your own songs you then found you were actually more drawn to the shall we say “cinematic” parts. When we did our first interview you mentioned the fact that Determinism of Morality was that first album when the quiet and loud parts came together. But I guess I’m interested to know how or when you came to that realization that what you really wanted to do is more of the sweeping, emotional stuff as opposed to the “throwing a wrench” thing?
I think it goes back to the history of punk, at least in the United States – I feel like I know less about punk in Europe than I do about punk in the United States. And I think you are correct in seeing Fugazi as part of that. I think in the 80s punk violated people’s expectations by essentially throwing out the histrionics and melodrama of hair metal and 80s pop, and so that was confrontational for its time. But by the time you get to the late 90s that attitude has been fully mainstreamed and it’s everywhere – there are just nine million Nirvana carbon copies with flannel shirts and greasy hair playing four chords and pretending to be super-wounded about everything. So I think that you get to a point by the late 90s where violating expectations means getting experimental. So there’s this bizarre inversion that happens where a bunch of records that came out in the late 90s that were kind of counter cultural had sounds that are totally similar to all these late-70s prog records. I mean, I remember being a huge Sunny Day Real Estate fan, and as a result of their later albums – I’m a huge fan of their last album, The Rising Tide.
I am too. Love that album, it’s their best by far.
It is, and it’s so underrated, but there’s no The Rising Tide without Yes. I remember going back and listening to Yes songs, checking out King Crimson and stuff like that because of this band that’s largely a late-90s DIY phenomenon. But, again, I think this gets back to this idea of expectations and I think that as this sound that we’re talking about, this cinematic-heavy sound, emerged in the early 2000s it’s useful to think about what was popular at that moment – American Idol was just taking off and the sound of rock radio was The Strokes, which was just a mainstreaming of indie rock. Bands like Botch and Coalesce were never destined for any kind of mainstream popularity because the sounds were too challenging, there was just too little for people to latch on to that was familiar. But I think there was a place in the early-to-mid 2000s for bands to say: “Oh, wait a second! Melody is kind of in short supply right now!” It seemed that everything that’s on the radio is either electro-pop or jangle indie rock or this super-stabby, garage-y kind of sound. Actually it seems we’re kind of back to that now, there’s a huge garage-rock explosion in the last five years. And so heavy bands in the early 2000s went: “Well, is there an unexplored range of textures in metal that we just haven’t gotten to yet?” And I think Neurosis was the band that showed that, actually yes, there is this range of unexplored textures. Godflesh had kind of hinted at that before that.
But I also think that, stepping back from those contextual arguments, I just think that the 00s as a decade were a cultural wasteland. So little good stuff was happening in mainstream music during the 00s. Also compared to the 90s but also when compared to the 2010s when we think about new technologies such as streaming – Netflix or Bandcamp – where there are mass-media products that are actually worth your time. And that was also true in the 90s, that it was a time with mass-media products that were actually worth your time. When I think of the 2000s I’m really hard pressed to come up with a list of stuff that was actually mainstream in that period that would have been worth your time.
I would only counter that by saying that that is something that dates the both of us since I agree completely but people who were teens in the 00s who think there was a tone of stuff that was as worth your time.
Yeah, but I would say the proof is that everyone that was a teen in the 80s is now in a Hum cover band. There aren’t that many AFI cover band, there are a bajillion bands that sound like Hum and a million bands that sound like Failure. But, yeah, I feel like there was a moment there where challenging, long songs that had an emphasis on texture and a kind of compositional minimalism were absolutely absent from the mainstream and also absent from the underground. Because the underground seemed to be populated by these bands that were trying to play the most notes in three minutes, and then of course there was the emocore explosion that was melodramatic and parody rather than trying to explore nuance or whatever.
Speaking of the technical aspect of things I found myself intrigued by one technical issue which is… We talked about how you kind of stumbled into a kind of tension that could be described, in layman’s terms, as the desire to fuck people up and cry a bit – if that’s an apt description.
OK, so every band that was into that tension at that time – and you can throw in ISIS and Pelican and you guys, among others – had different ways of going about it. And it seems like your mode of creating tension has always been something like the push-and-pull between the very delicate, repetitive, high-pitched, ethereal melodies that you were producing, Mike’s vocals kind of not a part of that tension but kind of sitting on it, and the other pole being the drums and the bass – Dave and BJ. It actually only dawned on me now, after years of listening to you guys, that that basically is what Rosetta is – the guitar painting clouds and the drums and the bass kind of fucking them up. And that kind of made me think of Fugazi again, because Fugazi and that whole wave of Dischord post-hardcore bands they kind of introduced that idea that the bass and the drums are the song and the guitar is just an ornament. I guess I’m asking whether there’s any validity to that description, this push-and-pull. Obviously you have heavy songs and riffy songs and in fact the album we’re here to discuss is probably the heaviest or the riffiest, but did you think about what you guys do as something a bit other than a cut-and-paste guitar band, where you’re not really riffing but kind of just there? Providing a counterpoint?
Yeah, actually one of my closest friends raised that similarly recently, he said Dave and BJ make music and Mike and I just make weird noses.
And it’s kind of true. I think that some of it stems from the songwriting process being really democratic. I mean, there have been some people who were influential to the texture of individual songs. So, for instance Wake/Lift was really driven by [Mike] Armine and me, and I would actually say that Determinism was more driven by Dave [Grossman] and BJ [McMurtrie] than anybody else. The two of them kind of exerted the most personal influence over the final sound of the record. And Determinism was that turning point that you’re talking about because that was the album where we finally got it together and started really writing songs as opposed to writing these parts that were layered on top of each other. So the first two records were constructed as a kind of collage or pastiche and I felt that Determinism had a much more focused and integrated approach, where it was like: “Hey, this is a hardcore song.”
There were shorter and faster songs on Determinism and there were longer and floaty songs too, there are more hyper-repetitive songs and songs that are more drifty. It finally got to a point where we asked ourselves what it was that we wanted to communicate and how can each of us help to achieve that goal in a more integrated fashion. And that has been the process ever since, even after adding Eric [Jernigan] – part of the rationale for adding Eric to the band was that it would add another voice into this integrated process that might help to shape it. The goal has always been the same – to try and figure out what is the song saying and what is the album saying, and then write to that end. Whereas the first two albums were more a bunch of people improvising and going: “Oh yeah, I liked that!” or “Oh yeah, I didn’t like that.”
Within that continuum you just described The Anaesthete plays a pretty significant role in that – and this is not a comparison between the albums – it kind of feels like your Through Silver in Blood. At Souls at Zero you kind of know where you’re going, in Enemy of the Sun it got clearer and then you get to what I feel is their definitive 90s album and yet it’s an album that bears quite a bit of negativity and one that the band looks back at and king of says “Yeah, that wasn’t a great time.” Because maybe there’s a way in which knowing exactly what you want to do morphs into quite a bit of negativity. Maybe because the feeling that you’ve caught onto something makes it feel like work. So, would that dynamic explain, at least partially, the distinct shift in tone between Determinism and The Anaesthete?
Yeah. I mean, I’ll be totally frank – Determinism has a happy ending and The Anaesthete doesn’t. I mean, you’re correct in your characterization of that but there’s actually a lot more specific context that goes along with that. We talked a lot about this in that documentary [Rosetta: Audio/Visual] because that guy Justin [Jackson] was filming us in that period, but Determinism was this pretty defining artistic statement for the band, we felt that we kind of figured out who we were and that we wanted to make this style of music that felt really satisfying. But then by the time The Anaesthete rolled around the band had no money. Like, we made no money. Not a penny from Determinism ever came to the band during that period. We had paid out of pocket to produce it, it was the first record that we had not recorded ourselves so all of the sudden the budget went from zero dollars to thousands of dollars and the label didn’t really help with it. They manufactured the stuff and they gave us our copies, but we never actually got paid anything, we never recouped the money that we spent on the production of the album.
So by the time we were ready to do the next record the band was already in dire financial straits. And then, in an effort to save money, we actually took the proceeds from our 2012 summer touring – we had done nine consecutive weeks in Europe and Australia, with only four days off in between, an we had actually made a fair amount of money – an we bought a veggie-oil-powered bus. We just thought: “This is something that will allow touring to be more viable in the future,” because gas prices were astronomical at that time. That bus that we bought lasted nine shows and then died. We got nine shows out of that bus and lost all that money because the guy we bought it from had already spent it and basically skipped town when we confronted him about it. And it was a very weird situation because that guy was the member of a very high-profile Relapse band at the time. So there was very little that we could do about pursuing the lost money without upsetting lots of people who were our mutual friends.
An Intra-Philly feud.
Yeah, something like that. And we didn’t even have the money to continue renting our rehearsal space, which means that The Anaesthete was entirely written in the BJ’s parents’ garage, which didn’t have any heating, and it was writing during the winter when the temperatures would routinely go below freezing while we were wiring those songs. The writing process actually ended when the neighbors called the cops. I had to go to one of BJ’s neighbors’ houses, knock on the door and beg this woman to let us keep practicing for nine more days so we can finish writing the album and “Please don’t call the cops again we won’t bother you anymore.”
So, at this point we were done with Translation Loss, we had no label, no funding, the band is largely broke, we’re scraping together the last of our personal savings to make this record, which we wrote in an unheated garage while the cops are being called on us. So, of course it’s an angry, guitar-driver record.
And what I was saying before about how different members have disproportionate influence on different records – The Anaesthete is to a large degree a dialogue between Dave and me. And as we were writing the records the two of us were spending a lot of time in verbal discussion before we would even lay down a note of music. So, instead of beginning with playing music we would begin by talking about: “What do we want this song to be like?” And those conversations were informed by the two of us talking about the hardcore bands from the late 90s that I mentioned a while ago that had really influenced both of us. We were talking a lot about Botch, we were talking a lot about Unsane – the track “Oku / The Secrets” on The Anaesthete was referred to at the time as “the Unsane song.” We actually knew as we were writing that it would piss a lot of people off because there wasn’t anything melodic about it, just this giant slab of odd-time-signature anger. And people didn’t like it, and we knew it. But the way I characterize it in retrospect was that that was Rosetta with nothing left to lose. We all knew that if the record sell the band was done, it was over. But then it was: “Well, those expectations don’t matter because they’re not real.” Money in your bank account is real, and the work you’re putting into making the record is real, and at the end of the day the recording itself will be real and it will last. But people’s expectations don’t matter. They exist inside of people’s heads but nowhere else, not out in the world. So we were conscious at the time that people were not going to like this record, we just didn’t care. And that’s why it sound the way it does.
But then didn’t people like it?
Not at the time. It was beat up when it came out. People acted like we shot Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. What’s totally insane to me is that the economic experiment of The Anaesthete was: “Hey, this platform Bandcamp seems really cool and fair and we have a few thousand followers on Facebook so maybe we can twist this social-media thing that we have going into some kind of gainful, money-making situation?” So, no PR, no advance anything, just tossed the record on Bandcamp in the middle of the summer when no one else is putting out a record and to this day The Anaesthete is the best-selling Rosetta record. Just in terms of raw revenue in all formats The Anaesthete has brought in more than any other Rosetta record. So, yeah, people liked it, in the sense that a lot of people bought it, but there was also this absolutely enormous, dam-breaking surge after the release and then a week later we started seeing social media posts like “This album really just peaks at the first song and I don’t like anything else on it” and then people complaining about the sequence or that it was too concept-heavy. “What is with all these butthead riffs and shouting songs that have no melody?” And people were really upset that we ended it with two instrumental tracks. “This is an unforced error, they shouldn’t have ended with instrumental tracks.” Like, dude, really? Have you ever written an album or made a decision about how to sequence songs before? People were like: “I made this playlist with a superior order for the tracks.”
[Laughs] What actually is interesting about the order is that the concept of the album, the The Sword and the Brush book. So, I read some of it just because we were supposed to talk and I noticed one little oddity which was that the chapter names from which you got the song titles maintain basically the same order you guys had them on the album. Except “Compassion” should have went last, according to the book, but you guys had “Austerity” last. And what that told me is that you were pretty determined to end it with an angry note.
Right, because the book is about balance. Part of the thing was that Dave, who is a practitioner, he read that book. I had not read the book at the time that we were making the album. And we basically picked the song titles not really trying to do anything super specific with the order but we just picked the songs titles we felt were appropriate for each song. So the first track is “Ryu / Tradition” because that’s the most classically Rosetta track on the album, “Hodoku/Compassion” is obviously the softest, and so on. But the thing about the order, and this is another piece of context that I didn’t mention before, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in October of 2012 and it destroyed the studio where we were planning to make the record in. So Andrew Schneider, the guy who had recorded Determinism, had moved to a new studio on The Gowanus Canal in New York City and it was completely flooded and everything was ruined by Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012. He still produced the record but we ended up doing it out of Joe Hamilton’s studio, Studio G, in Greenpoint, because that was what was available. He gave us this unbelievable cut rate because he was trying to bail Andrew out so that he would still have work after his whole life had been destroyed by the hurricane.
So the thing about the structure of the album is we’re using these titles from this book that fundamentally is about equilibrium but the album is about disequilibrium and disintegration. The structure of the albums is like a hurricane in that it has a ramp-up to a point of maximum intensity and then there’s an eye at the very center of the storm and that’s the track “Hodoku/Compassion” until another wall strikes in and then there’s a trail-off. The whole point of having two instrumentals trail off is that the human voice goes first and then the other instruments successfully die off – the drums die off and then the bass dies off and the last track is nothing but weird noises on the guitar, which even ends with me detuning the strings to the point where they’re not even playing notes anymore and it kind of fades out. So, again, a band with nothing to lose, making an album that’s about disintegration and destruction and disequilibrium and so we intentionally ended the album with the most offensively depressive way that we possibly could. And people were correct to be upset by how it ended. But to never ask what the band intended with this and instead go with: “These guys are idiots and I made a better playlist” just made me go: “Is this real?”
[Laughs] I mean, I can only speak for myself and I loved it at the time. I remember thinking “Yes! I get the heavy Rosetta album I’ve always wanted!” And in a way I think it’s easy to see what a weird time in the band’s life that was once you look at the albums that succeeded because it never got that bleak again.
And in a way you kind of ran away from being that bleak ever again. I think the first time I felt like you guys were getting pissed again was one of the EPs you released last year [Terra Sola, 2019]. You released a more post-rock one in Sower of Wind, but I actually thought Terra Sola had a very The Anaesthete vibe about it. But would it be safe to say that once that detox, train wreck happened with everything that had to do with The Anaesthete you kind of went “never again”? That you didn’t feel obliged to run into that house fire again?
Yeah, but because we didn’t have to. It would almost be dishonest to try and capture all that negativity because in fact going independent completely transformed the fortunes of the band. That album made a ton of money. So, not only did we recoup our costs but all of a sudden that was the moment in the history of the band where individual members of the band no longer had to go into their own savings to go on tour. Every since then every time place tickets need to be bought or a van needs to be rented or something needs to happen the band has the money to deal with it. The band has been profitable. It’s not a lot, it’s not anything to live on, but the band has not lost money in any given year since The Anaesthete. So, trying to go back to that would have felt really false. There was no way we were going to go back to recording songs in an unheated garage. And so obviously one other huge thing was that we added Eric [Jernigan]. There was an internal conversation in the band after the record had come out and did really well…. The thing is that after all of that Dave found out that his girlfriend was pregnant and he was going to be a dad, in 2014, and so before we even got to begging a touring cycle for The Anaesthete it was already over. So in sum total we did two weeks of touring for The Anaesthete with KEN Mode right when it came out, and the following year we did two weeks in China, a few shows in Russia, and that was it.
So, inside the band it was kind of like “We finally figured out how this band works, do we now have to break up because everyone’s life is too complicated to ever go on tour again?” And at the same time we were trying to figure out how to move forward and how to take things from here. So we added Eric, which, I’m not going to lie, was something that mostly Dave was pushing for at the time, I was not excited to add another guitar player to the band. In retrospect I’m glad that we added Eric and I can’t imagine the last six years without having Eric always around and a part of the process. He’s not the new guy, he’s a fully integrated member and does exactly what everyone else does. And actually since Dave has been largely unavailable for the last six years then Dave is now the tangential member just because of life circumstances. I don’t have any regrets about how that stuff went, but the shift in tone was inevitable, and since everyone knew it was inevitable it was more a question of how do we do this with integrity, how are we going to find something new to do here instead of just trying to retread Determinism or retread The Anaesthete. And adding Eric was a huge part of that.
So, other than playing in an unheated garage, your studio being swept in a hurricane, and your truck dying, so basically other than the world collapsing all over you, you mentioned that the album was a dialogue between you an Dave and since, maybe on my account, we already characterized Rosetta’s sound as being made up by that tension between the earth-bound bass tones and that hovering guitar, would you say that kind of dialogue perhaps led to tighter, more riff-driven music? Obviously the tension is still there it is still a Rosetta album not a Cannibal Corpse album, but do you feel like that dialogue also shaped the sonics?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that in some ways that was always the definitive Rosetta statement of that dialogue and that kind of tension because from the point of adding Eric to the band afterwards we sort of tipped the scale in favor of the guitar side of things. Eric and I play guitar but our technique is nothing alike. But, having said that, he definitely leans towards melody and progression and less toward the driving rhythm and the more aggressive elements that Dave brings to the table. So, it’s kind of ironic on some level that The Anaesthete, being an album about disequilibrium, actually best achieved an equilibrium between those two different voices that you’re talking about, and then we offset it again going forward so that when Quintessential Ephemera…. It was very much a guitar album, just two people playing guitar solos all the time. It’s funny because I look back at Quintessential and I actually see it as being similarly awkward and transitional to the first two records. And I think that Utopioid is to the five-piece lineup what The Anaesthete or Determinism was for the four-piece lineup.
Is there a new one coming out?
The new one was and is 80 percent done when the pandemic started and we would have been recording it right now, right this moment. But that’s all indefinitely on hold, because no band is going to put out a potentially defining record and not be able to tour on it for a year or two afterwards.
So, I have a set closing question but I still owe you a kind of side remark, so that’s coming. But the set question is: Looking back now, after all the band has gone through since making The Anaesthete, is there anything about that album you’re especially proud of today, an element, song, overall feel that you feel holds up especially well?
Several things, honestly. I still think in retrospect that that is the best-sounding Rosetta album. Which is shocking and no shocking. It’s not shocking since it’s the third Rosetta album we had recorded with Andrew Schneider, so he knew exactly what he was getting into. And also because we were in Studio G, which is amazingly well-equipped, really great-sounding, and we were in the big room on the big console. So once we began to track we had every advantage, we even booked more time than we really needed. So, looking back at that I think the mix and the overall production is the pinnacle of what we have released. And it’s funny because we actually did Utopioid in the exact same studio but it was produced by someone else and I think Utopioid is more interesting and more experimental in terms of the production but it doesn’t quite achieve the same heights in terms of the polish and the production being precisely married to the sound of the songs. So, I’m really, really proud of how it sounds.
I think, honestly, it’s probably my favorite record, compositionally. I think the first track “Ryu/Tradition” is really important to me because even though it’s the most standard and normal Rosetta song on the album I think it doesn’t feel like an afterthought or a throwaway, it feels like a really important song in the evolution of the band. And I also thing the song “Ku/Emptiness” has a level of dissonance in it that is extremely rare in the Rosetta catalogue and I’m really proud of how that came out because I feel like it has a nihilistic vibe to it that we never achieved on any other song. There are a lot of times that we do songs that I think are super dark and then other people hear them and say: “You know, I find that really uplifting.” The last two tracks on Utopioid are an example of that – those songs are about dying alone, Utopioid doesn’t have a happy ending too. But a lot of people experience a really positive catharsis with those two tracks, and I’m pretty sure no one listened to “Ku/Emptiness” and came out the other end feeling good.
So I’m just really proud of the fact that we just said: “Yeah, this doesn’t sound like anything we’ve ever done but who cares let’s just do it, this is how we feel. And let’s not put vocals on it!” We even considered having vocals on that track and I’m so happy we didn’t and I don’t care what those dummies on Facebook say. I’m 100 percent happy we ended with metal tracks.