Demo:listen: Stavves

Welcome to Demo:listen, your weekly peek into the future of underground extreme metal. Whether they’re death, black, doom, sludge, grind, thrash, -core, heavy, speed, punk-, stoner, etc., we’re here to bring you the latest demos from the newest bands. This week, Demo:listen wanders deep into the desert to find Stavves, a staggering, new black metal force from the Inland Empire.

Stavves’ debut, The Desert Gloats, is one of those rare, highly advanced demos that’s practically a short album. For all their demo’s depth, movement, and intelligence, not to mention its dramatic coda, this California quartet must’ve poured their dark little hearts into these three songs.

Says Joel Alvarez, Stavves’ guitarist: “Stavves . . . happened organically and developed on its own. I was basically looking to jam with other musicians and met Reid [Hausner, Stavves’ drummer] through a mutual friend. After jamming out some black metal riffs, it seemed that we had something going. I met Mark [Hunter, vocalist] and Jesse [Briseno, bass] through the natural development of the project. An important aspect is that we actually get along and are able to hang outside of the band. Without band chemistry, there is no point. I feel that the chemistry between us reflects in our music.”

The way Alvarez talks about meeting Stavves’ vocalist and bassist “through the natural development of the project,” you’d almost think that one evening while he and Hausner were jamming, Hunter and Briseno just showed up, out of the blue, as if drawn there by the music itself. But it makes perfect sense that the formation of Stavves would appear so “organic,” and  completely unforced. Because that’s exactly how the music of Stavves comes across. 

Speaking of his own background, vocalist Mark Hunter reveals, “[Hausner] and I were in a black metal band, Spiculum Iratus, years back. I also had a dark ambient/noise project called Nostalgia that is [now] defunct. I’ve made some small contributions to Xasthur and Chaos Moon in the past. Jesse is currently in an indie rock band, Castle Pines.” While Alvarez currently plays in a d-beat/crust band called Wither and Rot, also.

As for their name? First of all, it’s pronounced like “saves,” but with a T. 

“Reid came up with the name/word,” says Hunter. “The extra V was added to avoid (possible) legal issues with the folk rock band, The Staves. The word stave, conjured up interesting imagery for myself—I pictured a sole wooden post sitting crooked in the middle of a desolate landscape. Aesthetics alone, I was instantly sold on the name. It may just be an idea at first but it didn’t take long for an idea to transform taking on a personal meaning. It is also defined as, ‘breaking, piercing inward,’—This can be applied to writing lyrics and constructing themes as a personal deconstruction of my thoughts, ideas, feelings, ego/self.”

Hunter’s just as candid and forthcoming regarding the demo’s auspicious title, as well. Here at Demo:listen we were getting a strong Arrakian vibe (as in the desert planet where much of Dune takes place) from everything about Stavves’: their music, the demo title, even the cover photo (taken by William Clift). Turns out, at least poetically speaking, we weren’t so far off.

“The title has a few meanings. As I discussed before, ideas can always mutate and transform… take on more personal meaning. It started as an idea from Reid wanting an ‘ode’ to the city we live in (or rather, the opposite of an ode since we do not in any way glorify it), Corona (suburbia hell). It initially took form as discussions I’ve had with Reid in the past about wanting to get out of Corona, so lyrically it conveys feelings of wistfulness and stagnation; the desert (a metaphor for Corona) stared back gloating and mocking me. The cover art conveys this feeling perfectly showing nothing but barren land and desolation. The theme of the song and the EP as a whole is inspired by existential topics. I was inspired when re-reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and this particular line struck a chord within: ‘…Surface, was all that anyone found meaning in… this was civilization as I saw it, colossal and jagged…’”

Besides demonstrating their sophisticated songwriting skills, The Desert Gloats sounds just exquisite. It’s obvious that the engineer, John Haddad of Trench Studios, understood completely what his subjects were going for. And yet not only was there a stifling time restraint, but at least half of Stavves had never recorded in a studio before.

The Desert Gloats was recorded in late May within an eight hour ‘live’ session,” explains Hunter. “Additional guitars were recorded over the base of the live recording along with the vocals . . . It was the first time Reid and I recorded in a studio. In retrospect, the studio experience as a band provides insight on what we can improve on, what to do/not to do, next time around. For a demo, it’s effective in its purpose.”

One of the first things you ought to notice while listening to The Desert Gloats is how unconcerned Stavves are with remaining a “true kvlt” black metal band. While the final track “Blood & Sun” is the most obvious example of their tendency to go post- and beyond, the other two songs bear plenty of non-metal influences, as well.

Says Alvarez: “‘Blood & Sun’ is . . . heavily influenced by bands like Russian Circles, Explosions in the Sky, Red Sparrowes, Interpol, and a lot of indie music. Also my crust/punk background shows its ugly face in there a bit. Mostly genres outside of metal is what inspires us the most to create and experiment with the Stavves sound.”

“The ending of ‘Blood & Sun’ is rather cathartic,” Hunter adds. “Each of us are into a lot of different types of music and . . . I consider our different backgrounds a positive aspect to the band. With that in mind, the diversity between us four gives us an advantage of playing not your average/typical black metal. I have no gripes being open that our some of us don’t really fit into the rigid ‘standards’ of black metal, even if at rare times, I find myself guilty of the metal attitude.”

It’s great whenever bands uphold the mighty tradition and pay homage to tried and true metal, but we must also celebrate and foster bands like Stavves that help extreme metal to mutate and evolve.

“There was never a conscious decision of what type of black metal we should play,” Hunter admits. “It wasn’t discussed what influences we’d grab from bands x, y, z. Despite this, I won’t deny the possibility that subconsciously influences can seep in. The music is created more organically usually consisting of ideas coming from jamming together and building upon riff ideas through practicing together. I’ve come to appreciate feeding off vibes and feelings in real-time during our jam sessions which provides a more primal and raw energy to the music.”

The Desert Gloats is the result of genuine urges meeting with fearless creativity and impressive musicianship. And, thankfully, physical copies are in the works. 

“We are aiming for February [2018], accompanied by a release show. The tapes will be sold on our Bandcamp so keep an eye out for those . . .”

February, at least for those of us in the Tropic of Cancer, when the world is desolate and the weather is harsh will be the perfect time to jam this demo again (and again and again) on tape. We’ll see you there.