Interview – Night Terrain

Out of New Mexico’s oft-speculated desert sky flies the darkly evocative Night Terrain. The band members describe their particular style of racket as “equal parts space rock, doom metal, and stoner rock… riffs go from slow, sludgy and droning to uplifting, manic…” On July 24th, Night Terrain self-released their debut album, American Dream, which manages to paint twilit frontier landscapes with its precise balance of cosmic post-metal half-melodies, driven tempos, and poignant cultural samples. Rarely do project names nail a record’s vibe without resorting to distorted generalities. American Dream is one of those comfortable surprises, delivering on every external promise with a strong sense of personality and soulful connection. I know, this all starts to sound like a shameless press release, but check out the title track’s guitar solos and closer “Distant Echoes” acoustic introduction. These guys feed vivid dreams through their instruments and out your speakers. And incidentally, their taste in literature is impeccable (anyone referencing Murakami’s bibliography of surreal thrillers gets a free Captain Awesome cape and matching tights).
 Joe, Dave, and James were kind enough to answer some probing questions about their musical interests and habits, which you can find below the sample track “Dusk”. Try it on and see what you think.

How did you decide on the band name?  And when in the process did the album title come about?  I ask because the combination of band name and album title epitomizes the music.

Josef: Dave and I had been playing for some time and had some songs laid out but still hadn’t come up with a name. We booked our first show and still didn’t have a name picked out. I remember it being a Saturday morning when we stumbled upon it. I remember thinking “this music reminds me of landscapes.” I’ve always been a “horizon gazer”. Landscape was too much to say so I just started throwing out synonyms. For some reason I threw “night” in there too. Every suggestion we’d presented up until that point was categorically shot down by the other person. This was the first one where we both went “wait….yeah, I like that!” It’s auditory similarity to Nigh Train is constant source of humor for us as a band.

Dave, your bio says you moved from Rhode Island.  What music were you working on then, and what precipitated the move?

Dave: I had been playing music since I was a kid, basically, in a lot of bands that didn’t really go anywhere. Luckily in RI and MA there was a really strong music scene at the time, so even so I got to play in front of good crowds and open for some really interesting bands. I started off playing grindcore and black metal until I moved on to more melodic stuff, and at the time Maudlin of the Well/Kayo Dot became a big influence and I got to meet Toby Driver a bunch of times, which pushed me towards more post-rock kind of stuff. As for the move, we all do silly things for a girlfriend once in a while, and that was mine in 2006.

How does Night Terrain differ from other music projects you have worked on?

Dave: We’ve all done some really different stuff in the past, that is for sure. I had a bunch of bands before settling on a post-rock/hard rock band, then took a massive five year break from music. Joe was in a band with his friends called Separatist Faction for a good deal of years, which was more of a southern-feel death metal band and James has done everything from bluegrass to experimental noise projects and some straightforward metal bands. I think for all of us it is an interesting departure and we try to work in as much as we can from our influences and past experiences.

Do you feel that playing instrumental music puts extra pressure on you in terms of songwriting?

Josef: None of us have been in instrumental bands before and, generally, we don’t listen to a whole lot of instrumental music. There are times when I think we’ve all had inclinations to want or expect vocals. Part of that is due to default (everyone wants/expects vocals) and part of it is due to a potential need in terms of songwriting. That being said, the music stands on it’s own as a conversation between the three instruments. There’s definitely room for vocals, but to your point, we’ll definitely need to have vocals in mind during the song writing process. We’re also very aware of the listener’s expectation for vocals, That’s probably the most consistent feedback we get.

How particular are you about finding a specific sound for your instruments?

James: Tone-scapes are part of our overall musical mission. We’ll do these practices occasionally where we will experiment with tones by playing a rowdy progression through looper pedals on each guitar, looping in synch. The only way to get anything out of this is developing a killer sense of timing both with the looper pedal and your fellow musicians, and couple that with consistently logging amp and pedal settings on note cards, envelopes, receipts, flesh, what have you and linking them to recorded rehearsals. Regarding drums, Josef likes the snare to crack, not ping; toms should have a medium attack yet resonate deep and long. I built myself a ‘large beaver’ distortion pedal from some parts and a pdf, and Dave has been known to say guitar tone comes mostly from the fret hand!

Did the sampled material fit into existing music, or did you write music after having chosen the samples?

James: The samples started with American Dream, a song where the music was written first and it invoked in us this impending reflection on the countless iterations of the every day man’s life in our country’s quarter of a millennium history. The Carlin samples came from a late night perusal on YouTube precipitated by Dave.  That got us contemplating samples in a more general sense. There’s so much to choose from in today’s digital age, that what we select has to be really, fecundly important for the song. Then again, “Wild Again”’s mid-song bass progression was written [by] myself after I listened to a Joseph Campbell lecture given to me by a friend, so in that case the sample begat the song. To avoid copyright issues, some of our future selections may come from more obscure selections from the modern age of recorded speech, dialog, and lecture. Check out the Everything’s Terrible (I & II) DVDs if you want a glimpse into the 80′ and 90’s as we saw them – it was a strange time for Americans and their cable TV. No freaking internet or cell phones for most of us!

Are any members of the band listening to some oddball music that other members aren’t into?

Dave: Yes, lots of it. We all have some intersections with the basics, but then we all go all over the map. I think that Josef has a lot of the “metal base” for music with lots of Opeth, Mastodon, Arch Enemy and that kind of stuff, but he’s also an electronic music fiend and has been to a ton of shows and even has his own noise project, Sonicaust. James probably has more of the old school metal burned into him, like Metallica and stuff like that, but loves listening to stuff like Bob Marley, Beefhart and John Cage. My leanings are towards stuff like Prince, Bowie and Roger Waters while still being fascinated by straight forward guitar rock.

I’m always interested in the non-musical art or literature that worms its influence into music.  Anything you’re particularly into that served as inspiration?

James: We first rehearsed in an old warehouse downtown that served as a collective for artists of all sorts: potters, painters, sculptures, welders, mechanics, etc.  And so all this rusted, welded, glued and time worn stuff of man began to collect in and around the space. Somehow it must have made it into the music. Other sources, specifically from the written word, which struck our lives during writing and recording were Loren Eisely’s “The Night Country”, Guy Murchie’s “Seven Mysteries Life”, Animal Farm, Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Carl Jung’s “Psychology of Religion”, Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”, Haruki Murakami’s “Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”, Kurt Vonnegut, Malcom Gladwell’s books, etc.

Any other fun NT thoughts or trivia for our readers?

Josef: A running joke during the recording of American Dream was a phony vocal chorus during the fast part of the of the title track that went “everybody’s livin’ for the Taco Supreme!”