The Other Side of the Same Coin: An Interview with Merdarahta’s Topon Das

For those who came late to the on-going party that is Fuck the Facts, you might not realise that some of the earliest works with the FtF brand on ’em came more from the noise side of the extreme music spectrum. And if you take into consideration that we recently dedicated an entire issue to the noisier outposts of sound, it’s a safe bet that a little less musical structure and lack of overt “killer riffs, dude” is going to scare us away.
From the mind of Fuck the Facts mastermind, Topon Das comes Merdarahta, an atmospheric-ambient-experimental-drone-doom-noise project that more approximates the sound of the Earth spinning on its axis funnelled through a two-tiered pedal board than it does “killer riffs, dude.” There already exists a prolific collection of releases (with Solar Pulse being the latest) all of which you can sample at the band’s Bandcamp page. Enjoy the soothing/harsh soundscapes as you read the following introductory interview with Topon.

deciblog - merdarahta live

So, the history of Merdarahta goes back a couple years. When and why did you start heading down this path? Was it an inverse creative reaction to what you do in Fuck the Facts and most of the bands you end up recording?
My interest in noise goes back almost as early as my interest in grindcore. Some of the very early FtF releases in the 90’s were straight up noise/experimental releases. When FtF became a full band in 2001, we still did a few more releases like this, but with time we veered more towards the path of being a grindcore and metal band. I never lost interest in noise and more experimental music and we always included elements of this in all of our releases, but with the busy FtF schedule I didn’t have a proper outlet to dive full-on into it. The real beginnings of this project started in the summer of 2010. It’s hard to pin point an exact time as the beginning because I didn’t all of a sudden decide that I was going to start an “ambient noise doom” project. I just started going down to our rehearsal space with a guitar, a loaded pedal board and a couple of beers. The idea was to just improvise and play until I found an end. I wasn’t worried about writing riffs or structuring a song, I would just start and see where it would take me. Since recording is one of my big passions, I recorded almost every session that I did and this ended up being the basis of what would become the first few Merdarahta releases. This was all happening while FtF was working on our album Die Miserable, and I had recorded a track like this for the bonus section of the CD. The track is titled “Oct 26th” (the date that it was recorded) and this is what I consider to be the beginning of Merdarahta. The first Medarahta release, Snake Charmer/Towers was also initially intended to be released under the FtF name, but that’s when I decided to make this a separate project. I knew I wanted to do more with it, and it just felt like it needed to be it’s own entity.

It’s only been now that you’re starting to take Merdarahta a bit more seriously. Why’s now suddenly and doesn’t the fact that FtF has gone more independent make time for anything else a bit of a struggle?
The main reason I never did more with Merdarahta was simply because FtF is so busy. I’m definitely always working around having a full plate with my band, studio work and family life, but even when we were on Relapse, I didn’t have time for much else. FtF had a bit of downtime, so I wanted to try directing some energy into this different outlet. It’s pretty fun and exciting for me because I haven’t had another “band” in almost 10 years. Luckily with it being a collaboration project more than an actual band, it’s easier to manage.

You started this project, but the participation aspect of it has changed. Who else is involved? Why and when did you start bringing others in?
It started as 4/5ths of Fuck the Facts, plus our friend Leigh Newton from The Sun Through a Telescope. But since then I’ve been trying to bring in different collaborators with each release. My next-door neighbour Seb Choquette from the band Mekhaya, is actually one of the mainstays now, but we’ve had Adam Jennings from Winters in Osaka and Mike Raymond from Black Oak Decline, as well as ex-FtF member Dave Menard on different Merdarahta releases. From the beginning I wanted it to be more of a collaboration project rather than a band. As a general rule I try to keep it to seven people on each release. I already have a list of different people that will be on future releases, but I also do ask some people to come back and contribute again. I get a feeling on how things are clicking and the contributor’s general interest, and then just take it from there. I could definitely do this project all on my own, but there’s something that’s exciting about working with different people and seeing what ideas they come up with. It’s similar to FtF in the way that I like to have the creative input from others, but different in the way that I take a lot more control in shaping Merdarahta than I do FtF.

How are the recordings done and structured? Does each person add their own parts in isolation or in collaboration? Do you find certain people doing more improv, going down more structured avenues or using certain sounds more than others?
I always end up recording Mel & Vil (Fuck the Facts), and every time we record its just straight up improvisation. They might have heard the track once before, but I’ll just hit record and let them do their thing. In the end, I might end up doing a bit of editing, but as with everything else in this project, it’s very minimal. As for the other collaborators, I just send them the base track via e-mail for them to record their parts to. They have the benefit of working on parts if they chose to. Again, I’ll take what gets sent back to me and work it in. I have even taken something that was contributed and used it as the base of a completely new track if I felt it didn’t really work in the piece. Not much ever gets completed deleted, but sometimes it’ll sit more in the background as ambience rather than the focus.

In the going back-and-forth with different contributors, how do you know when a particular song is “done”? Is there a lot of free reign for whoever’s adding their part to do something on the “outlandish” or unexpected side of things? Have you ever had it where you just didn’t like what you got back?
What I get from the different collaborators is completely up to them. I never tell anyone what to do or what I expect, and 90% of the time I’m really happy with what I get back. For some people it comes a lot more naturally to do something like this, and they are doing different things and experimenting more with non-traditional instruments. Others approach it in a more standard fashion, which can also work. If I get something I really feel doesn’t work, I’ll cut it or try using it elsewhere. A good example would be the track “Breathe,” that guitar melody started as something that was meant to be mixed in with a different track, but I felt it worked much better on it’s own. So I sent that isolated track to just a couple of other collaborators and it ended up being my favourite track on the release. Most of the time though, its just finding where everything needs to fit level-wise. There have been parts I thought didn’t work, but turning it down, or even up, can usually make it find it’s place. I know the person had something in mind when they recorded the part, but sometimes I might just not hear it the same. As for when things are finished, usually it’s once I have all the tracks and have spent a couple of weeks listening and tweaking it. Like with any sort of music writing/creation, you have to just reach a point and say, “ok, it’s done now.”

What does the name of the band/project mean or refer to?
Merdarahta is actually taken from the title of a Fuck the Facts ambient noise piece that we released in 2002 on a split CD with Czech grind band Feeble Minded. As much as Merdarahta is a separate project, it was important to me that they still stay connected in someway.

Is the live band very much different from the recorded band? Musically, how faithful are you to what you’ve put down on tape or is Merdarahta live quite different from Merdarahta on record?
Right now, Merdarahta live is very different from the recorded output. When I decided to take the project to a live setting, the initial idea was for it to be completely improvised and also with a revolving line-up. We did three shows with a different line-up where we would create a different piece for each show, but recently we’ve stabilized the live line-up to be Mel Mongeon, Leigh Newton, Seb Choquette and myself. Instead of writing a new piece for each show, we have one that is morphing overtime. There’s a basic structure, but also a lot of room for improvisation. I’m not 100% sure where I want to go with Merdarahta live. For now we have something that works, but I know I don’t want to settle into being a “band” with a solid line-up. I want to keep the door open to change and different variation on the project.

What are some of the more discernible challenges in creating music on the more minimal end of things as opposed to grind with a traditional two-guitar/bass/drums/vocals line-up?
I would be lying if I didn’t say it was much easier. Working on Fuck the Facts material takes a lot more of my time and just a lot more focus. Working on Merdarahta tracks is just about getting relaxed and listening. Any adjustments I do are very minimal and I never want to go overboard with any sort of processing, so the workflow is very smooth.

What have some of the more interesting reactions you’ve had directed at Merdarahta, from those more familiar with FtF and otherwise?
It’s cool because Merdarahta has really attracted a different audience. There hasn’t been a big draw from the FtF crowd over to Merdarahta. I’m sure there are a few people that enjoy both projects, but if anything I see a whole different group of people at a Merdatahta shows than I see at FtF shows, and even on-line I see a different group of listeners for both bands.

Now that you’re working with a bit more focus, do you have any goals or aspirations for the project that you didn’t necessarily have in the past?
It started really just as something that I wanted to do for fun and now it’s turning into something that I could see myself continuing for a long while. I want to pursue it as I would any band, with more releases, shows and possible touring, but mainly I want to see where I can take it to keep things fresh and interesting without totally abandoning the initial vibe and concept of the project. I have a lot of different ideas and an evolution already in mind for Merdarahta, so we’ll see where that takes us and how it all comes together. Most importantly it has to be very different from Fuck the Facts. I always think of Merdarahta as being the right side of my brain band and FtF the left side. With both these projects I feel like I’m getting the best of both worlds and it’s nice to be able to jump back and forth between them depending on my mood.

Check ’em out on Bandcamp, Facebook or watch this:

As well, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that Fuck the Facts has a new EP out and available; the first release from their Noise Salvation imprint. Entitled Abandoned, it consists of three songs that were originally written for their last album, Die Miserable and you can give the tuens a whirl on the band’s Bandcamp page, here.