Stars Now Beneath Their Feet: Isis Remembers Isis Part One

It’s been almost a year since thinking man’s metalheads Isis hung up the reverb pedals, but they have returned, in vinyl form, to celebrate their legacy. Five live albums are set to be released by the band, the first one coming at you this Tuesday, May 31st (pre-order here). And they have sent us video, photos and musings that illustrate a band who was around for a long time but still not quite long enough. Enjoy some photos (courtesy of Mark Dawursk) and a couple of remembrances, but stay tuned for even more of this sweet shit tomorrow.

Mike Gallagher (Guitar)

Over the years Isis had the pleasure of touring a large chunk of the globe. We had the honor of sharing the stage with some of our all time idols. We traveled to parts of the world we otherwise would never have gone to and met people along the way that will remain our friends for the rest of our lives.

That all said, it’s the stupid little shit that sticks in my head when I reflect on past tours.

For Instance…

-In 1998 we didn’t quite have all of the necessary touring details worked out. As a result we drove around New Bedford, Massachusetts for hours trying find the venue that we were booked to play that night. This was before smart phones and GPS, so that meant hours and hours of looking in phone booth phonebooks and stopping in stores to ask people to help us find this mysterious place. Never did find the venue, but we did laugh our faces off because Aaron Harris wouldn’t stop playing “Looking Out My Back Door” by Creedence and after not too long, the absurdity of the situation became too hilarious to take seriously.

-On our first trip to Australia, our tour manager Dave had the foresight to give us a few days of staying at the beach before we got to playing. I did not fully grasp what Dave meant when he very clearly told us that there was hardly any ozone layer left there and as a result we needed to be very careful of overexposure to the sun, even with sunblock… Let’s just say the after many hours of frolicking at the beach, some of us learned the hard way what lack of ozone means. A few of us, including myself, were burnt to all hell. I still had a lot of fun both at the beach and at the shows but some of us were walking around like lobster zombies for a few days.

I am incredibly glad to have had the opportunity to have played and toured with Isis for over twelve years. The experience has taught me invaluable lessons about life and it was both a long and satisfying road.

Aaron Harris (Drums)

I grew up with ISIS. I was 19 when we formed and 32 when we ended. Those are the years that most people attend college, get degrees, figure out who they are, and slip into adulthood. It was a little different for me. What started out in 1997 as an idea between friends grew into an internationally-recognized band with a following that felt more like a community than a “fan base.”

We never had any visions of traveling the world, or making a living from playing our music. I remember when we sold 60-something copies of our cassette demo at a festival, and we couldn’t believe it. I have so many memories: Our first U.S. tour in ‘99 with Cave In; the first time we played London in ‘04, which was also the first time we drew more than a thousand people; getting invited to support Tool on their 10,000 Days tour; and all the friendships that formed around our ISIS family.

It’s hard to isolate my single favorite experience, but I can tell you what I’m most proud of: Our last record, Wavering Radiant.

Writing Wavering Radiant was one of the most intense experiences of my life. We always tried to do better with each record, to push ourselves into new territories, and this came with a particular kind of pressure that impacted all of us. I had a lot of anxiety and insecurity writing WR, which was compounded by a feeling that we all seemed to be reaching a point where it was all catching up with us. This was never something that we talked about together. Communication was never our strong point. Instead, we spoke to each other through our instruments. Because we had spent so much time together, shared so much, instinctively we communicated through our music. I think deep down we all knew that this would most likely be our last record as a band, even though we never talked about it, and no one ever suggested it. It was just a feeling that loomed in the back of my mind, and I think the other guys as well.

Prior to WR, I spent a few years recording and producing on the side. In addition to recording our demos and mixing the Sydney, Australia live set for our Clearing the Eye DVD, I also took on records, including Zozobra’s Bird of Prey and Aloke Dutta’s Spondaic Oblation.

While writing WR, I demoed endlessly. We re-worked songs many times before they reached a point we all could agree that they were finished. We had never rehearsed so much for a record in our career. We were downtown in our space working everyday, Monday to Friday, for close to a year.

By the time we were ready to track, I had become a different person. I was consumed with this record. I couldn’t sleep because the songs were going over and over in my mind. I listened to the demos, always questioning if they were really finished, if they were they good enough, because, what if this was our last record. When the day came to start recording drums at Sound City, just outside of Los Angeles, I was more ready than I had ever been for anything.

We enlisted Joe Barresi to help us create this record, which was a departure from our usual pairing with Matt Bayles. Joe is responsible for some of our favorite records by the Melvins, Tool, Queens Of The Stone Age, etc. Looking back, tracking with Joe at Sound City made me feel like a kid again tracking with his band for the first time. A new producer, with a new way of doing things, a drum tech (which I had never had previously), a new studio, a new drum kit, a new set of songs. We were fully prepared to make this record. The drum tracking went fast — I actually finished earlier than we had booked time for. And all the anxiety and insecurity I’d felt was replaced by confidence and strength.

Over the next few weeks, as the other guys did their tracks, I absorbed as much of it as possible. There was still a looming feeling that this could be our last time in a studio together, and I wanted to take in as much as possible. I loved watching Joe work with the guys, and his method of helping us create the record, from taking the extra steps to get unique sounds to creating an environment the encouraged us to give our best performances. His ear is as musical as it is technical, which as a drummer is something I could relate to. That month cemented for me that after ISIS, I’d pursue engineering and producing.

Beyond the technical stuff, I love being in a studio and creating. Nothing can replace how it feels to walk out on a stage, under the lights, and play for a crowd like ISIS had, but I also feel a genuine connection to helping other bands create their records. There’s nothing quite like seeing an amazing musical performance and being there to capture it. Or, when it all starts to come together, and you bring up the faders; and the drums and bass hit you right in the chest; and the guitars and vocals sing in your ears. Or, when a band comes to you with their music, asks if you’ll join them in creating their album, and entrusts you.

I’m in a place now where I’m passing off the baton to other bands — and that’s something I never could have done without the deeply gratifying, life-changing experience I had with ISIS and the intense experience of creating Wavering Radiant.