Live and Direct: An Interview with Mizmor’s A.L.N.

Photo by E.R.R.
Photo by E.R.R.

August is shaping up to be a busy month for Portland-based multi-instrumentalist A.L.N. and his one-man black/doom metal project, Mizmor. His first full-length Mizmor album since 2012 (the immense, otherworldly Yodh) drops on the 12th, and just two days later, he’ll be bringing the band’s music to the stage for the very first time at the inaugural Migration Fest in Olympia, Washington, where he’ll join heavy hitters like Mournful Congregation, Krallice, Thou and Panopticon (also making their live debut). 

We caught up with A.L.N. to talk about the process of transitioning Mizmor into a live band, the challenges that come with creating music by yourself and the finer points of rehearsal room tomfoolery.

What made you decide to bring Mizmor to the stage after four years of being a studio-only solo project?
From its beginning, Mizmor has existed and progressed in relationship to necessity. I began creating this music to alleviate grief and depression brought on by myself through faith in certain ideas and religious practice. I had no intention of posting or releasing it. It was made out of need; the purpose it served was solely personal. After recording the first album, I showed a few close friends. Unanimously, they urged me to share this music with others. As a result, I put the music online for whomever to find. It wasn’t long until someone contacted me seeking a physical copy of the album (CD, tape, etc.). After conversing with him and thinking for a while, I decided to make a run of 10 handmade CDs, giving the album a more tangible, special component. I gave one to the person who sought me out, a few to friends, and posted the remainder online. I ended up making 74 before I decided to move on and make another album. My point is that life experiences necessitated the creation of Mizmor’s music, and other people’s need to hear and experience it has progressed it. I have only ever supplied more music to the public because there was a seeming demand for it, so to speak. And this philosophy has carried the project to its newest frontier: live performance.

Painting by Zdzislaw Beksinski
Painting by Zdzislaw Beksinski

In August, Yodh comes out. This is my second full-length, the first in four years. After working meticulously on this album for a year and a half, I am extremely excited to witness its fruition. In addition to self-releasing this album on tape, Gilead Media will be releasing Yodh on double LP. Through my friendship with Adam [Bartlett, Gilead Media] and our mutual excitement in this new record came the invitation to play at his festival. I thought about this for months and was very unsure. Ultimately, I fell back on my old philosophy and decided to oblige the request. Prior to this moment, I had only been asked to perform once or twice. They were when the project was much younger and I wasn’t prepared or interested in exploring live performance. But now, I am thrilled, tired, burdened and excited by this new album in a way that makes me ready to try to present Mizmor. Adam asked me at the right time and I am happy (and nervous) to perform for those wanting to experience it.

As Mizmor’s sole member, you obviously play every instrument on the albums, but which instrument will you be playing in the live band?
Although I play all the instruments on the recordings, I will be playing guitar for the performance (in addition to performing vocals), with friends sitting in on the other instruments. In my other bands, I’m the drummer/vocalist. I primarily play the drums; it is both my favorite instrument to play and the instrument I’ve played the longest. However, I feel as the only member of the live band represented on the recordings, it’s more important for me to play lead guitar. I have my own flavor in playing each instrument, and when my friends sit in, our goal is not just for them to play the parts well (which is no problem because they are all incredible musicians), but to get them to play like me. I think the lead guitar—the guitar that wrote the songs and is starting the riffs—is the most personally stylized and prominent instrument in the project, requiring my hands as its player.

Who will be joining you in the live band? How did you go about putting together the lineup?
I’m very happy to say that the group is made up entirely of my best friends. This part is essential to me. If I’m going to do a live performance, it has to make sense. I’m not trying to gather some acquaintances from other bands or random session musicians so I might have the ability to perform live. I was given an invitation to perform at a friend’s festival and it sounded fun, but unless a specific group of people could play with me, I didn’t want to pursue the offer. I don’t have a personal agenda in taking Mizmor to the stage. I don’t need a live lineup to work out. However, the three friends I wanted to play with ended up saying yes. We’ve been practicing and preparing, and it sounds great and has been really fun, too. I’ve been close to these guys for most of my life; one of them for 15 years. All of them have been in bands with me throughout the years as well, so it’s extremely natural. In a lot of ways, they already know how to play like me. They certainly know how to spontaneously break out into a ridiculously silly filler song at practice with me.

Have you encountered any unexpected logistical challenges as you’ve been rehearsing the material for a live setting or has it translated pretty well?
For the most part, bringing the recordings to life has been smooth. There have been logistical challenges, but none that have stumped me. It’s actually been really fun. I haven’t been a guitar player in a live band since my very first 10 years ago. As an adult, this is my first real experience with crafting my live guitar setup. Building a pedal board, swapping out tubes, and experimenting with speakers have proven to be both necessary and rewarding pursuits. All of us in Mizmor have been honing our tone and technique. We started practicing the set for Migration Fest pretty early to allow the kinks to show themselves, so we could address all problems and perform the best sounding set possible for everyone who traveled to see the fest. I’ve been very appreciative of my mates taking on this same attitude and putting in so much time.

Will you be doing more Mizmor shows in the future or is this a one-time thing?
That remains to be seen. The future may or may not call for it.

What’s the biggest challenge of creating music by yourself?
For me, the biggest challenge is having to wait to hear an idea fleshed out. In my writing process, the guitar riff always comes first. But when I write a guitar riff, if I want to hear what it’s going to sound like with everything playing, I have to record the riff, write and record a second guitar part, figure out a quick bass line, record that, and then write and record a drum beat. This is impractical and just not how I work. Because of this, I instead write the entire song on guitar first. Then I write the drums, humming the guitar to myself. Finally, I can record the drums for the entire song, which must go first before any guitar (in my method). Eventually, all the instruments will be recorded and I can finally hear what I envisioned. Although this works, it’s a very broken process and it’s difficult to get a preview of your work. Being in a band is more fluid. Someone says, “Hey, check out this riff!” and everyone just starts jamming it. You can find out very easily what you do and don’t like about the song, morphing it with others until it satisfies. Of course, now we’ve come to the catch-22 of this situation, for although I love the group dynamic in some ways, I also love not presenting my music for further morphing based on others’ opinions. This is precisely why I have a one-man project. I need that outlet and freedom, like I also need the freedom to jam and collaborate.

Yodh is out August 12 on Gilead Media. Double LP, digital and cassette pre-orders are available now. Mizmor play Migration Fest on Sunday, August 14.

Photo by S.R.R.
Photo by S.R.R.