After Christine from ThisIsNotAScene gave “Constantinople” a few spins and set forth a few ideas about the release. It was a natural flow to have a chat with Ides of Gemini. J. Bennett graciously accepted our interview invitation to sit and talk music and the new release.
Since the release of “Constantinople” this year, you guys have been touring quite a bit. Have there been any memorable experiences on tour thus far?
I wish I could regale you with entertaining anecdotes from the road, but we haven’t actually been on tour yet. (And the album isn’t out yet, either.) But we have had the pleasure of participating in some excellent shows recently, including the Hollywood date of the Decibel Magazine tour, where we opened for Behemoth, Watain, The Devil’s Blood and In Solitude. The experience was nerve-wracking, to say the least. But I think we made quite a few new fans. There was a line of teenage girls waiting to get their picture taken with Sera while we were loading out.
Would you ever consider touring Black Math Horseman and Ides of Gemini together?
That tour would be a total blast, but it’ll probably never happen. I suspect two sets a night would be way too much of a strain on Sera‘s voice.
Bennett, since you’ve had to re-learn guitar after such a long break in order to start some recording and achieve the sound Sera and you were looking for, how did this learning experience differ from the first time you picked up the instrument at 16?
Night and day, really. When I was 16, I was primarily concerned with learning how to play my favorite songs. In learning other people’s material, it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics and techniques involved in playing those particular songs. As a result, you don’t really develop your own style unless you make a concerted effort to do so. And that just wasn’t something I was thinking about when I was a teenager. When I picked the instrument up again a couple of years ago, I did so with the explicit purpose of writing original material for Sera to sing over. In doing so, I made a heroic effort to resist the urge to bust out a Black Sabbath or Thin Lizzy lick when I couldn’t come up with something of my own. I basically forced myself to work on my own material at all times. It paid off, and it’s still paying off.
Do you think it would have changed your sound completely as a band had you been learning the instrument at a different time, without the recording in mind?
Absolutely. If I had tried to write this material when I was a teenager or in my early 20s, it just wouldn’t have been possible. My ear wasn’t yet developed to the point where I could write with the nuances of a specific human voice in mind. No way. Everything probably would’ve come out sounding like a third-rate version of Kyuss or Danzig or whatever else I was obsessed with at the time.
Since recording The “Disruption Writ”, which I’ve read was about dismemberment; lyrically in both physical and metaphorical terms, would you say the additional songs on “Constantinople” follow the same lyrical theme?
Yes. All the songs on “Constantinople” make reference to dismemberment in some way, whether it’s mental, psychic or actually losing a limb. I don’t think that was necessarily 100% intentional on Sera‘s part – it just kind of ended up that way because of the things she was reading and the way she was writing at the time. But yeah, there’s definitely a recurring theme there.
Why did you choose to change “Martyrium Of The Hippolyt” to simply “Martyrium” on Constantinople? The instrumentals on that track seem to have been toned down quite a bit too from the original recording too. Was this to showcase more of Sera’s ghostly beautiful voice?
Shortening the name was Sera‘s idea, and we agreed because we were referring to it as just “Martyrium” amongst ourselves anyway. I borrowed the original title from a painting by the 15th century artist Dieric Bouts that depicts St. Hippolytus being drawn and quartered. And I do mean “borrowed” as opposed to “stole,” because now we’re giving it back to him. Not that I imagine he lost much sleep over it.
I don’t think we toned the instruments down very much on the “Constantinople” version, but maybe Sera‘s voice is slightly higher in the mix. Then again, all the songs were written to showcase her voice, so anything we can do to emphasize that is generally done.
I definitely get more of a black metal vibe from the recordings on your first EP. Bennett, would you say this is sort of a continuation from where you left off in The Everglades Enlightenment Program or just based on your musical influences at the time perhaps?
There was one EEP riff that made it into Ides Of Gemini, and it was definitely a black metal riff. I wish I could say my tastes in black metal have changed since the late ’90s – which is when I was trying halfheartedly and failing completely to get EEP off the ground – but they haven’t. Burzum, Immortal & Darkthrone are still my favorites. I certainly like plenty of new bands that have emerged since that time, but those three will probably always be the ones I return to consistently. I think it’s safe to say that you’ll hear more black metal influence on future Ides recordings, though.
What made you decide to go from being a duo to adding Kelly Johnston into the mix as your drummer? I for one, welcome it as she sings beautiful harmonies while staying technically sound behind the kit.
We brought Kelly in because we wanted to play live, essentially. I think Sera and I discussed the possibility of playing as a duo with a drum machine, Godflesh style, for a grand total of about three seconds before we shot the idea down. It’s a very stiff and inhuman way of approaching the live show – which works perfectly for Godflesh, who play music that is inherently mechanized – but what we do is obviously very, very different than what they do. Kelly ended up being the perfect person for the job because she can play drums AND sing Sera‘s harmonies. It might have been easier to find a male drummer, but I imagine that anyone we could have found would’ve have been completely unable to keep up with Sera vocally.
Ides of Gemini seemed to have spawned out of circumstance, free time and lyrics written a while back. Where do you see this band headed? Is it a band that will always take a back burner to other more pressing projects or has signing to Neurot made it more of a pressing commitment in terms of putting out new work?
In terms of musical projects, Ides Of Gemini is the number one priority for all of us right now. If all goes as planned, we’ll be touring the UK and Europe in the fall. As far as where we’re headed aesthetically, most of the music for the next album has already been written and demoed. Until recently I was nurturing the exceedingly lofty goal of having all of the new songs written before Constantinople comes out at the end of May, but that seems unlikely at this point. Still, I think having all of the music for the next album written and demoed by July 1 is completely realistic.
Alright, so I’ve been curious as to the exact identity of the image on Constantinople’s cover. I know you designed it yourselves and although from a distance, the first time I saw the cover I thought it was a key hole, from a closer look it seemed like a sickle scythe cradling the moon. What’s the images connection to the album? I’m probably looking way too far into this but curiosity kills.
I like your keyhole interpretation – it’s something I noticed myself after the fact as well – but it’s meant to be a sickle cradling the moon. We’d rather leave the exact meaning open to interpretation, but historically there are many prominent graphic connections between the sickle and the city of Constantinople. We welcome any and all interpretations. For the most part.
Photo taken by Xander Deccio Photography.