Lychgate Interview: Getting Off the Glass Pill

A couple weeks ago, we provided you with a peek into Lychgate’s extraordinary (and extraordinarily odd) new album, An Antidote for the Glass Pill.  Well, maybe “peek” is understating the fact, as you actually got a full-album stream, to which Chris Dick added the descriptors “decadent” and “uncomfortable.”  If you did not take the time to soak in the album at that time, do yourself a favor and give it your attention right now. We got in touch with masked visionary Vortigern to find out more about the album’s origins and intentions, so that you wouldn’t have to venture into Antidote without a life preserver the way we did.

Can you recap how Lychgate first got together and what drove the creation of the first album?

The project was formed in 2011 with myself, Greg Chandler (Esoteric), Aran (Lunar Aurora) and Tom Vallely (Omega Centauri, Macabre Omen). Initially the album was written as a kind of tribute to a previous project from 10 years before, but in a new way. There were demos from 2010 that were recreated in the first album. The idea was to construct the project from those seeds, but with a new, strong line-up.

What has the band (and its various members) been doing in the time since the first album was released?

The first album was released in a low-key way. There were only three live shows and modest press coverage. So, since the first album all the band’s efforts have been towards the second album, which I have to admit was a huge amount of work. Two years were spent writing the album, and 50 minutes worth of tracks were chosen, with three tracks omitted.

When did you know you wanted to work on a new Lychgate album?

Work began on it in January 2012 and the writing process was finished in December 2013. I remember that the arrangements for the first album were complete by roughly the middle of 2011, so clearly by the time it was recorded and released it was nearly two years later. The drums for the first album were being tracked in April 2012, where the second album writing process was already in progress.

What ideas drove the creation process of An Antidote for the Glass Pill?

The lyrical framework was very important for shaping the development of the music. The entire work is based primarily on Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon (late 18th century): a prison design concept to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution/prison without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched; thus constantly governing their behaviour patterns – “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind”. However, the album is named after [Yevgeny] Zamyatin’s novel We (in which a future urban nation is constructed almost entirely of glass, which allows the secret police/spies to inform on and supervise the public more easily) and [Stanisław Ignacy] Witkiewicz’s Insatiability (where in a similar dystopian scenario, Davamesque B2 is the pill that removed the ability to think). I was also influenced by [Franz] Kafka, and these concepts collectively made up the lyrical content.

Musically, Liszt’s organ work Fantasy and Fugue on the chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam” (1850) was very important as an influence. There were other 20th century composers who inspired me, but outside classical I should mention the electronic/progressive project Art Zoyd, and to a lesser extent Autopsia. Other sources of inspiration came from 1950s-1970s era cinema and also musique concréte.

How do you approach writing/performing Lychgate music differently than their work in other bands? What does Lychgate accomplish that those other bands do not?

In Lychgate all the music is written by one person. For performances we have to play to a pre-programmed click track. Of course in the future it is possible to play without one, but we prefer to do it that way because in the live environment we try to replicate the recording as closely as we can. Esoteric usually do not play with a click, but they have done occasionally.

I would not say that this band has much to do with the projects some of us have played in, nor with any other band that I can think of. The main component in our sound is obviously the pipe organ, which forms the backbone to all pieces. As a band, all other parts are worked around that basis. We also accomplish a sense of harmony that seems to be individual.

There were a lot of great non-black/doom elements on the first album, but the inclusion of organ on An Antidote for the Glass Pill really pushes it further, making it more theatrical. Can you talk about what interested you in this sound and why it’s so important to the music on Antidote?

I was always interested in organ music. It probably started at a very young age when I heard Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. Also, I’d already begun using organ occasionally as far back as 2004, but in recent years the instrument started to naturally take on a leading role. It became the instrument which all riffs were composed on/for. Some bands would like to create something symphonic and they have done so with strings, but for us we have achieved our orchestral arrangement with organ; and most importantly, we have done it in a real way, without keyboard fakery. It became the identity of the album’s music in some way and therefore the most important.

Do band members have any favorite songs or parts on the album, either because of the creation process or how they sound on record?

We all have different favourite tracks, purely based on how they sound on recording, although I have to admit that some parts stay in my memory from the creative process (because I wrote it) and also the recording process. For example, I remember that during the recording of the organ parts Kevin Bowyer was playing some sections at different speeds as a trial. Some of those parts actually sounded very interesting at half the speed; although admittedly we decided to stay with our programmed tempos. He said that the ‘I Am Contempt’ verse at half speed on organ reminded me him of the Harpies scene in the film ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ (1963); not because of Bernard Herrmann, but because of the image it conjured up.

Our drummer always said his favourite part on the album is the ending section in “My Fate to Burn Forever”, partly because of the modulation between chords during the gradually slowing tempo. Personally speaking I cannot single out a track, but my favourite parts include the choral section in “Deus Videt Te”, the ending half of “The Illness Named Imagination” and the ending cacophony in “Letter XIX”.

What has Lychgate’s live experience been like? Where and how often have you played? Are there any particular shows that stick out, either for good or bad reasons?

As I mentioned previously, we have only played a few shows; basically in the UK, but also at a festival in Romania. This is quickly changing because there will be a European tour in November. So, it is too early for us to speak about individual shows.

Upon Antidote‘s release, what are the plans for Lychgate’s activity for the coming weeks/months?

Apart from our November tour, we will be booking other shows to promote the album. We are also working on new material, as always. Work began on new material in the middle of 2014, roughly six months after Antidote was finished in terms of the writing process. 

Order An Antidote for the Glass Pill at the official Blood Music store here.