As part of the build up to the release party for Talanas‘ debut album “The Waspkeeper”, Mat Davies put some questions to each of the band members. First up is vocalist and guitarist, Hal Sinden.
Firstly, congratulations on the debut album- it’s a triumph. How do you feel about it?
Thank you very much, it really seems to have been received well so far which never fails to be enormously humbling.
It’s a funny feeling on this side of the release, it’s sort of a mixture of relief, excitement and trepidation. We badly needed to get a full length album out and in doing so we decided not to tour the EP but instead bury ourselves in Berry Street Studio for ages, so this is a hell of a pay-off, it’s now the waiting game to gauge the reaction to it and see where we can push.
What were the easiest and hardest aspects of bringing “The Waspkeeper” to fruition?
Every project that requires this much attention and commitment will obviously be fraught with a lot of mixed feelings & occurrences. During the making of the ‘reason & abstract’ EP we went through so many problems, it seemed like it was one bad experience after another, it became really hard not to imbue what was actually pure coincidence with some sense of malevolent personality so we wound up referring to our bad luck as THE CURSE™. Amazingly, we didn’t get it appearing too often with this album but it felt like something of a cloud on the horizon sometimes. In saying that, I think I’ve just solidified our identity as a moaning doom metal band, haven’t I? Our glasses are most definitely half empty and it’ll probably rain soon, buuurrrrrgghhh…
The easiest aspect for me was shooting the video for ‘antiphon’. Everything went so well and of all the videos I’ve ever made in my career it was certainly the most enjoyable. It was very odd to have spent a year or potentially more creating this beast and then to condense so much of its feeling into a two day shoot, it could potentially have been quite tricky to convey the sentiments of the song we’re using as the ‘single’ but instead everyone seemed to be reading from the same page. We had a great director, Greg Barnes of ClingFilms, and he made sure that moods were at a constant high throughout. We managed to keep things within budget and all to schedule, plus the typically erratic British weather held out.
Speaking personally, the hardest part was tackling my state of health throughout the editing / mixing stage to date. I had a stomach ulcer appear in 2008 when interlock split, it’s the most stress I’ve ever been in as it felt like my entire career was falling to pieces and it took me nearly 6 months to be rid of the condition’s effects. Annoyingly, coordinating this album’s production took its toll and the ulcer reappeared around January. It’s pretty debilitating, so thankfully I’d managed to finish most of the vocals by the time it really took full effect.
There are a lot of personal themes running through “The Waskeeper”- has the record been a cathartic experience?
I’m sometimes annoyed by the way that I keep returning to certain subjects that I’m obviously not done dealing with, especially after I thought I’d exorcised a lot of those demons in past releases, but here we are again and they’re still burning a trail through my lyrics.
This time around I decided to push the boat out though and tried going into some extreme personal territories. Being totally honest, there are quite a few areas of this album that I’m not totally comfortable listening to purely due to its lyrics which is something I probably need to deal with pretty soon, but it’s valuable to have said my piece on it all I suppose. I’m not sure those who inspired those passages will necessarily know which parts refer to them, or even in some cases whether they’d ever actually listen to it given what’s passed, but it’ll be the closest I get to making my voice heard. Yep, I guess you could say it’s been cathartic.
You can hear a number of influences in the record- perhaps most surprising for readers of TINAS would be the Japan/David Sylvian/Depeche Mode undertones. Tell us about that…
I don’t think any of us in talanas are at all scared of making show of our influences, no matter how unusual or presently unfashionable. We’re each of us children of the eighties and I think it shows, in my case I’d say I’m perhaps a little overly obsessed with the decade but I genuinely feel it was one of the most significant and rich eras of contemporary music. Even pop bands appearing in the charts at the time were unashamedly dark or misanthropic. I mean, sure, there was a lot of pap and it’s hard to look back with rose-tinted glasses at acts like Bucks Fizz or Mel & Kim, but by the same token it’s amazing to think that there was once a time where groups like Visage or The Sisters Of Mercy actually charted with songs that were undeniably darker than anything that’s even dared appear in mainstream music for the last 20 or so years.
My reverence for the eighties doesn’t just end with the lyrical content though. Before the whole dance era of the nineties exploded, the organic musicians of eighties groups were of such astounding calibre, in particular there were so many singers that were such a strong part of my upbringing. It’s inevitable that you’ll form a strong bond to what you grew up listening to and developing strong emotions with, in my case David Sylvian is probably the earliest voice I remember having an emotional reaction to with his ‘Forbidden Colours’ single.
There’s an identifiable timbre to the voices of the singers I’m most influenced by; David Sylvian, Colin Vearncombe, David Bowie, Dave Gahan, Bryan Ferry, Scott Walker, Morten Harket etc. I just think there’s so much more that can be done with a male singing voice in metal than emulating Rob Halford or Bruce Dickinson, I find it difficult to express any sense of dynamic when using the ‘industry standard’ as my lyrics are rarely about leather or war. There’s such a negative and binary understanding of clean vocals still within metal, just because you’re not being forceful or triumphant doesn’t necessarily you need to be whining nasally from behind your 6” fringe.
There’s a tune on our album where we explore writing using entirely clean tones. I don’t feel that it’s too much of a departure from the atmospheres we’ve managed to create in the heavier songs and I feel we’ve got a lot of mileage to experiment with this further.
There’s a discipline and focus around all the tracks on the record- How easy are you to work with?
HAHAHAhahhahaha… It’s funny to think that someone might listen to our performances and think “Christ, they sound like right gits!”. I’m probably a nightmare, for all I know. We have a language between us in the band that means we rarely struggle to communicate what it is that might need change in any way, there’s actually seldom a disagreement amongst us which I’d say is part of being a four-piece.
The difficulty lies in conveying any kind of understanding of what is actually a very singular vision created by the four of us to someone not ingrained into our modus operandi on a daily basis. I’ve definitely found myself getting extremely frustrated that nobody has yet made a physical version Douglas Adams’s Point-Of-View Gun, and those who usually come up against that frustration are people like our Producers or Art Directors etc.
We’re very specific about what we’re ok with presenting as output. This is our legacy, this music will last far longer than us as people and so our level of quality control is quite strict. The problem is, the trolling culture created by anonymous posting on web forums and the like has meant that music listeners are whole lot more critical now, and on a much more personal level. I don’t think that people have half as much of a thick skin as most will present, so if I’m to be judged not only as an artist but as a businessman and even a person on the strength of an 11 track album then each of those tracks had better be sexier than Natalie Portman in a treacle bra lying on bed of broken marriage proposals.
How are the plans for the tour coming along? What can we expect in terms of your show?
We’re being pretty selective at the moment, plus the heat is still very much on to meet all of the deadlines presented by the album’s release. We’ll most definitely be waiting on press response to the album before approaching the dates we want: it’s honestly best to be fully armed before wading into the bookings jungle, progressive machete in hand.
The reality of touring for a band at our level is that unless you sweat money it’ll have to be a weekend-centric string of dates to allow for statutory leave allowance and basic logistics & living costs. It ain’t glamorous and it’s hard to work on your tan in the back of a Ford Transit splitter with no middle windows, but the pay-off is showing people what we can do outside the studio environment.
In terms of our live show, we’d draw the line at employing exploding midgets or polystyrene dragons but conversely it’s not enough just to stand there and insult our audiences with a totally static performance. We give visually exactly what we’d expect to see in any band we’d pay to go and see. It’s my opinion that there must always be a sense of theatre to strengthen the fourth wall at a show, to prolong a sense of belief in the meanings behind the songs. In other words – we move.
What other current artists/bands are inspiring you at the moment?
New discoveries are always an absolute bonus and are definitely the benefit of the digital age. I’ve been going nuts over Esben and the Witch for a while now, but I’ve also got into Warpaint quite a lot. My big flag to wave at the moment though is Evi Vine, she’s an independent artist who has just released the most amazing debut album and I’d recommend anyone to go check it out ASAP, I’m still discovering new layers in it.
I don’t really listen to a lot of metal these days, however I’ve recently been digging the latest release by Spires called ‘Spiral of Ascension’.
How do you all relax when you’re not working or gigging?
By working. Ok, that sounds a bit mad, but seriously I find that I feel a bit guilty if I’m not filling my time outside working my 9 to 5 with working on Eulogy Media and all of its current responsibilities, which is presently almost exclusively talanas.
I sort of work in quite a reactionary fashion, in that I keep doing one thing until I need to do another, often involving me getting hideously distracted by other items on my to-do list. I usually work until I need to sleep or at worst need to get out the capital to where I come from in the middle of nowhere in Kent – that’s how I re-charge. If it’s not that then it’s a case of holding an enormous party, that’ll normally deal with steam that needs to be let off. On a day-to-day level, if I don’t get to the gym once a day then I start to go insane.
We’re getting a round in. What’s your poison?
As I have a stomach ulcer at the moment, Guinness – that and water are the only things I can drink. It’s driving me mad. Normally though I’d say probably a Maker’s Mark or Monkey Shoulder.
You’re stuck on a desert island- what are the key records you’d like to have with you?
Dead Can Dance – Into the Labyrinth
Such amazing atmosphere, it also contains what is in my opinion the best written song of all time – ‘The Ubiquitous Mr Lovegrove’.
David Torn / Mick Karn / Terry Bozzio – Polytown
It still amazes me how three such outstanding musicians actually decided to work together in the first place, but then also to have created something so earth-shatteringly powerful & complex. David Torn is my favourite ever guitarist, Terry Bozzio my favourite drummer and Mick Karn was second to none in his command of a totally intuitive & vocal approach to bass. Total spine tingling material.
David Sylvian – Secrets of the Beehive
A lesson in how to be dark as hell and yet be subtle whilst doing it. An unrelentingly morose piece of work, backed by some of the best jazz musicianship anyone’s heard in a good long while. Sylvian’s voice is like nectar.
Fields of the Nephilim – Revelations
I’m usually not a fan of ‘best of’ compilations, and despite being a purist for the Nephs’ early work, this double disc release contains some amazing re-imaginings of their songs as well as the stellar early original pieces. It’s a great retrospective for my favourite ever band.
The Sisters of Mercy – Floodland
I still struggle to be comfortable with the way that such hideously overblown budgets are blown on hip hop artists these days. This album was made on a frankly immense budget but, unlike so much of the upper echelons of today’s chart music, is worth every second that was committed to tape. Total professionalism throughout.
My Dying Bride – As the Flower Withers
As far as I’m concerned, this is the bible for writing dark, atmospheric metal. It’s the album that got me into extreme metal in the first place and I know every last note, syllable and drum hit of it.
iamamiwhoami – (To Whom it May Concern)
To prove I’m not living in the past too much, this is the last offering from the infamous viral project by Jonna Lee and various assorted musicians. It’s the ‘live’ performance and often finds me in a place of total calm & inspiration.
If you weren’t in Talanas, what would you all be doing?
I’d probably still be an actor. It was either music or the dramatic arts for me, and acting is the only thing I’ve received formal training to do, so I’d most likely be back on the telephone to my agent to tell her I’ll go for that role she last put me up for that I didn’t like…!
Social media, like Facebook and Twitter, have become increasingly important for bands to get their music heard and distributed. Describe Talanas in 140 characters or less….
ZOMG o mai dayz, has U laik SEEN dis sh1z? 4 kikz + shirt sleevz prog frog ROFLcopter
What’s next for Talanas?
What’s likely to follow this is a lot of preparation for live work. We badly need to gig as I know there are a lot of people eager to see what we’re like onstage, it’s absolutely one of the most crucial parts of all this and having spent this long recording the two releases I’ve found that I’m really missing the communication that you get from live performance.
Alongside being selective with where we play, a big difference this time around is that we won’t be spending that long on the road so as not to lose sight of generating new material. It’s important that we keep that ball rolling and it can be easy to get swept away with constant touring. We’re planning a UK tour for later in the year with some truly great UK acts, plus we’re about to confirm some dates in Norway, of all places. After all that, I can definitely see us returning to the studio, we’ve already started writing tentatively.
Time for the final question. What is your ultimate Spinal Tap moment?
For me it was getting Joe’s 3rd & 4th kick drum pedals delivered by Mapex to the venue on the day of performance when we played the main stage of Fusion at the Elgiva Theatre in 2009. Given the size of the stage we were playing, we were set on making use of Joe’s entire kit but were yet to receive some parts for it, it came to the 11th hour and Mapex themselves confirmed they’d arranged a courier to drop the hardware off at the Elgiva Theatre. I don’t which was more ridiculous; the personal delivery or the fact that it had to be handed over as the 3rd & 4th kick drum pedals for talanas. Needless to say, it worked.