Featuring ex-members of Transistor Transistor, Trap Them, Landmine Marathon, and Abigail Williams, the immersive, affecting debut from True Cross, Pure Divorce, deftly imbues majestic layered soundscapes situated somewhere between My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr and Slowdive with the power and transfixing sway of its primal predecessors.
It’s a legit Zelda Rubinstein-style multidimensional experience — which is to say, even as you feel the warmth of the light and the strange, ethereal allure of the other side it is pure sturm und drang all along the path.
Pure Divorce isn’t out until next week — pre-orders here — but we’ve got an exclusive premiere of one of its most eclectic, inventive tracks, “VIII: Janis In Heaven,” a song that deals with the death of an Osaka, Japan-based pug owned by guitarist/vocalist Nat Coghlan’s dear friend, Junko Sugata. (Check out Janis’ Instagram page for visual accompaniment.)
Here is what Coghlan tells Decibel about the origins of the track:
I know Junko exclusively through instagram, but she is one of the best people ever. She has sent me so many nice cards, and letters, and gifts in the mail, and she is a total sweetheart. She sent me this double-live Flower Travelin Band CD — it is amazing. Anyway, she had two pugs Janis, named after Janis Joplin, and Rosie named after the Bruce Springsteen song “Rosalita.” It should be noted that Rosie is a boy, and from what anyone can tell also identifies as a boy. Janis unexpectedly died and I was devastated and I was devastated for Junko. “Janis in Heaven” is about the idea that I nurtured as a child that there is nothing after you die, and how I would like to believe there is some kind of exception or loophole to that for this dog. I sent it to Junko once it was mixed. Rosie has some health problems, but is doing okay, and Junko recently rescued another pug Betty Bean from some neglectful owners.
We lay the entire True Cross origin story out for you in the next print issue of Decibel, but in the meantime here is a slew of funny, insightful material from Coghlan — a game and wily interviewee — that wound up on the cutting room floor…
On the general reluctance of bands to discuss lyrics in detail:
I think bands just avoid wanting to discuss lyrical specifics because when you get into the nitty gritty you realize your lyrics make you sound like a moron and you sing about infantile shit. That said, there is an overarching theme [on Pure Divorce] of the conflict between the desire for, and aversion to, complete separation from something or someone and how a true, final, or pure separation is often impossible. Everything is going to end, but even then, you’re usually stuck with the ending. More specifically, I suppose you could say I was party to an actual divorce — not mine — at the time I was writing a lot of this, and a lot of this was a reflection on that, this laundry list of mistakes and missed opportunities. I suppose it should come as no surprise that this isn’t really a feel-good kind of record. And there is a lot of preoccupation with death. Not in the metal/horror movie kind of way — although I have a soft spot for that — but in the I am going to die and I will never experience anything ever again, and I am sitting here wasting my finite time thinking of how finite my time is kind of way.
Remember what I said about sounding like a moron?
On his approach to the beautiful submerged vocals…
I did not want to do vocals. I did not want to do vocals while playing guitar and I also thought there was probably someone else out there who could do them better. But I’m sure I would have driven another vocalist nuts by micromanaging him or her into oblivion. We tried out a few vocalists and nothing really took. We always knew what we wanted vocal wise though. As we solicited potential vocalists we were saying “are you ready to murmur and be buried in the mix? You better be!” The vocals were really treated like another guitar, both in how I prepared and performed them, and also how they were recorded. I don’t think any of us were really certain how they would sound, so they were kind of a pleasant surprise.
…and cascading guitars…
Bjorn and I are both noodlers, so I think that was bound to come out — lots of attention paid to treatment of the guitar; I thought long and hard about fender tremolo bridges. There is slide guitar and finger tapping because both of us like treating the guitar like a jungle gym. But kind of a dilapidated one. Shredders treat a guitar like a Crossfit gym. And dudes like Steve Vai treat it like a playground they’re not allowed within five hundred of…
On the composition process:
I think as individuals we all had some specific ideas coming in, I had long wanted to do something that I had described as “Stars of the Lid with drums”; something droning and equal parts calming and anxiety inducing, with the structure of a “rock band.” We did kind of jam our way into things, Mike [Pohlmeier]and I have very similar influences, but Bjorn [Dannov] wasn’t necessarily listening to This Mortal Coil in a darkened bedroom in his free time. When the album was written, we were all living in Phoenix and got together to write pretty frequently. I would bring in a song, either a sketch, an outline, or completed, and then we would collaboratively work on it, with the riff-writer kind of taking the lead. And then after we worked on one of those ideas, we would focus on something Bjorn had. So the band really has two principal songwriters, even though I feel that everyone in the band has authorship in all of the songs. It certainly went in unexpected places, in part because I think we had zero expectation, and also because Bjorn and I were both happy to work with each other’s material. Usually if you consider yourself John, you don’t fill in as Paul, but we were both happy to do so. What I’m saying is we are like the Beatles. We are to depressive shoegaze what the Beatles were to pop music. Quote me.
On the recording process:
Bjorn and I probably spent an equal amount of time messing with our gear and writing the actual songs, so it wasn’t hard from that perspective, it was very much included in the song writing. Writing these songs included a lot of seeing what treatment of the guitars worked best. I would labor over pick ups, and amps, and my pedal chain to ultimately get a tone which is best described as an industrial vacuum being heard through a World War II walkie talkie. In the recording and mixing of everything it was a different story. The guitars were recorded in separate places at separate times and the mixing engineer, Brad Wallace, definitely had his work cut out for him trying to find the right mix between Bjorn’s very shimmery glassy sound and my nonsense. I was pretty involved with the mixing process and I feel my sense of how things sounded in our practice space was pretty burned into my brain. I always find that albums that are recorded after minimal to no road testing/live performance always sound more claustrophobic, because you are trying to capture the sound of playing in what’s usually a pretty small room. I feel that it’s the case for this record as well, but it suits it because I wanted this to be the audio equivalent of a lead blanket. I think most of my mixing input included the words “drowning, covered, blanket, fog, and oppressive.” I’m sure I was super helpful.