Demo:listen: Occoquain

Both Occoquain demos came and went in the night, their limited numbers scarfed up by the scant few in the know, before most people could even figure out how to read the name. So we here at Demo:listen feel it necessary to bring our readers’ collective attention to this burgeoning black metal duo calling themselves Occoquain.

Behind Occoquain stands SR a musician who performs everything besides the vocals on Occoquain’s demos I and II, and vocalist Mark Southworth. 

“Mark and I have been involved in the melodeath band Corretja for many years with our good friend Bryan, who is based in Queens,” explains our contact with Occoquain, SR. “I have a ton of fun writing and contributing to that project but it’s a very exact science, and takes a lot of time to produce. Mark and I wanted to write something more spontaneous and unpolished . . . no click tracks! We saw a great set from Sinmara at St Vitus in April of 2019 and I think that’s what really pushed us to try a new style. I also feel like black metal is better suited to expressing anguish, chaos, and inner turmoil; themes that we do not really touch on or explore with Corretja.”

Take note of the anonymity, darkness, and isolation of this artist picture for Occoquain. The significance of it will make even more sense as you read on.

Occoquain got their name, SR says, “after a small town in Virginia that sits on the Occoquan River flowing out to the Potomac. It’s tucked away from the most horrid stretch of I95 traffic imaginable. Occoquain is ‘one from Occoquan’ which roughly translates to finding a peaceful place to hide away from the pain of modern urban and suburban life. Though Occoquain is based out of Brooklyn, NY, the Old Dominion state is where both of our stories began. We both have strong ties to the Washington, DC metro area, and Central Virginia. Occoquain made sense – paying homage to the state that we have both called home.”

The name resonates even more when you discover what themes Occoquain’s lyrics deal in. According to Mark: “Most of the vocals are just unintelligible, wordless screams. However, there are lyrics strewn about between groans and yells. I have not written lyrics down when recording for Occoquain, but I have always had a theme or a concept that I wanted to explore and yell about. The themes of those lyrics vary between demos. For example, the lyrics in Demo I revolve around the loneliness I have felt living in NYC, and how easy it is to be invisible in such a large metropolitan area. The fact that there are so many people, so many opportunities and possibilities in a place like New York, yet I could still go days without talking to anyone…well that was and has been overwhelming to me. That thought of being so insignificant was really crippling at times. And I wanted to scream about it. I wanted to try to let people hear what it can feel like to live in New York. I’m not sure how I did, but that was a prevailing thought while recording the vocals to our first demo.” 

He continues: “The lyrics in Demo II piggyback on that same theme but they focus more on the idea of everyone’s insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Demo II is not about my own individual perspective or experiences with insignificance. Instead, it is about grappling with the inevitable interaction with nothingness, and the scary possibility that we are truly nothing except what legacy we leave behind.”

Anyone who’s spent time weltering about in NYC should have a deeper appreciation for Occoquain’s lyrics. As for the vicious music and ill-boding melodies overwhich Mark gives vent to his howls of obsolescence, SR says “For Occoquain I wanted to capture some of that queasy, unsettled dissonance of early 2000s Blut Aus Nord as it would meet up with the catchier riffing of Mardraum-era Enslaved and the blunt approach of Bethlehem’s Dark Metal. Mark is much more tuned in to the current black metal scene and helped expose me to newer black metal projects like Lampir, Obskuritatem, Malevolum, and Paysage d’Hiver; all of which have influenced our writing and riffing to some extent.”

SR continues, elaborating on some of Occoquain’s other non-metal influences: “Thus far we’ve chosen artwork and photos for the demos prior to writing any music, and the contrast of urban sprawl with gray skies seems to inform the direction of the songs. I’m embedded within the over-development happening in Brooklyn, and witnessing such hollow luxury thrust into the decay of modern America is . . . influential! I also love the solitude of Prospect Park and taking my kids to visit the tree dedicated to Peter Steele.”

Demo II

SR provides a cool and in-depth breakdown of how recorded both of Occoquain’s demos. He says: “I used an Ibanez 90s RG (bridge humbucker for I, middle single coil for II) and a Fender Jazz Special bass (the Duff one) straight into Pro Tools through the BIAS FX2 plugin. Drums are Superior Drummer Metal Machine kick and snare performed live with two index fingers. Overdubbed one handed crash and ride if needed, but I prefer the immediate sound of just kick and snare when blasting. I also put a decent amount of reverb on the master output which engineers tend to avoid, so that felt good.”

“As for the vocals,” says Mark, “Demo I was recorded in a cold, dreary, and dank basement in Falls Church, VA, by screaming into an iPad while listening to the songs on a phone! The vocals for Demo II were recorded in my car, in various parking lots around Northern Virginia; also screamed into an iPad.”

Hey, who hasn’t screamed into an iPad in their cars in various parking lots around Northern Virginia? 

Comparing the first and second demos they’ve released, SR says: “The first demo was written and recorded in two weeks of April 2019. I sent partially finished recordings of each song to Mark and he sang [the vocals] into his iPad in his basement. We kept going until we had 15 mins worth of material and then I went down by the graveyard to grab a brick of tapes from National Recording Supply. We self-dubbed 15 tapes and were bowled over when 15 people we didn’t know bought them. That led to the upstart label Church of Eradication, based out of  Berlin, reaching out to Mark to do another run of 50 for folks in the EU, which have also made their way around. The basic tracks for Demo II were done in July of 2019 but it wasn’t completed and released until 10/31/19. I spent more time mixing, overdubbing my own drone vocals, and layering in midi horns and whatnot. As Mark mentioned, he moved out of the basement and explored local parking garages the second time around.”

“I don’t believe that the ‘success’ of Demo I led us to want to write a record Demo II,” says Mark. “We love making music together. We love pushing the boundaries and writing music that is outside of our comfort zones. We love and enjoy the interaction and the entire creative process! I believe we would be doing this same thing whether thousands of people heard our tapes, or if only the two of us ever heard them.”

Demo II with the hand-written logo on the tape. Our copy came with a note warning us to be careful not to smear it.

“I’m happy with the progression we’ve made from the first demo to the second,” says SR. “I think Demo II has a really unrestrained and restless sound, bordering on improv, that makes the first demo feel ‘catchy’ or ‘straightforward’ by comparison. Both function as 15 min. suites with interludes, and I feel like those breaks work even better on the second demo. I know what we’re doing isn’t symphonic by any measure but I think without worrying too much about lyrics, it’s easier to focus on the atmosphere we are trying to create and the overall impact of what we can produce while sticking to the 15 minute format.”

As for their dark and obscure, but atypical cover art, SR explains: “Our covers are black and white renditions of paintings my wife made many years ago. The first demo is a faceless image that gives off a feeling of isolation and frustration. The painting for Demo II is inspired by Moby Dick: the guts of a whale plopped into a frying pan. We went for a more submersive and ‘queasy’ sound for II.”

Demo I

“When it came to the j-cards for Demo I and II, we wanted the art to differ but at the same time be consistent from one demo to the other,” Mark says. “I’ve come up with the quotes for each demo, as sort of a guiding mantra. We wanted j-cards, art, photos, and quotes to be different, but also be unmistakably Occoquain.”

Unfortunately, both of Occoquain’s tapes are sold out, but don’t let that keep you from spilling some wine and letting them enter your soul. 

Looking ahead, Occoquain tell us: “The music for our third demo is done and is a bit more melodic than the first two. We are just in the process of adding some live trumpet and recording vocals. We’re contemplating writing lyrics for this but are still undecided. Church of Eradication has also expressed interest in putting out the first two demos on vinyl. We’d love to do a split with another band or explore releasing through another US label. We’d like to thank you [Demo:listen] for taking the time to chat with us, and I hope folks take the time to check us out!”