There’s a lot to be said about the unexpected in music, be it a new or sudden sound, or even an extra, added layer of depth to one of your favorite musicians. A quick bout of research on the ol’ Encyclopaedia Metallum shows former Agalloch and Khôrada bassist Jason Walton to be one of the more experimentally pedigreed musicians in their database. To those who follow Walton’s escapades, this is not new, with memories of the exceedingly strange Especially Like Sloth MySpace page or Nothing’s grey misery.
With Snares of Sixes, featuring a core of fellow former Agalloch member Don Anderson as well as Sculptured bandmate Marius Sjøli and musician Robert Hunter, as well as a rotating cast which features members of Winds, Barrowlands, and even Lawnmower Deth, Walton looks to the lesser-explored ends of his own unexpected discography. On upcoming full-length album MoonBladder, what once was a 25-minute MIDI doom metal cover of Rush’s “Red Barchetta” turns into an abstract soundscape, filled with the sounds of rattling bed frames, mutated guitar solos, and a particularly stirring sung passage by Kayo Dot mastermind Toby Driver. Watch a full-length MoonBladder video and read an in-depth interview with Jason Walton below.
MoonBladder is more an experience than a piece of music. I wanted to ask about the process of taking this 25-minute MIDI composition and adding the layers of improvisation over it. What was this like and what goals did you have in mind during its creation?
I started it trying to, with most things when writing music, I’m just trying to stretch my legs and just kind of feel it out, see what’s coming out of me. I don’t really have a specific goal in mind. With this, it was actually a 25-minute cover of Rush’s “Red Barchetta.” It was ridiculous of me. I was just doing it for fun and was turning it into this doom metal thing. I don’t even like Rush that much. It was just something I did, but then I was spending more time on it and thought it could be really cool, but why was I wasting my time on a cover? I was looking at it like a foundation and adding layers on top of that and layers on top of that and deleting foundational layers and moving on from there. Marius [Sjøli] and Robert [Hunter] and all these people were giving me other pieces that I was moving in there and adding in there. After a few months, there’s no Rush at all anymore. I have some sections in there that are live improv with Robert, sections that are improv with Nick [Wusz] and Robert, and then we started adding more pieces to it. It’s a really strange process, the way it came to be. It doesn’t make any sense because it started as one thing and added tons of other layers to it and it became something completely different. That’s how I tend to work sometimes, especially with projects like Snares.
This is also a very different experience than the last Snares of Sixes (Yeast Mother) which moved into the more avant-garde metal stuff that you’ve discussed at length in other interviews. What made you want to make something more abstract?
Well, I felt Yeast Mother was something I had to get out of my system. I wanted to make an album that sounded like Mr. Bungle and The Locust, and once I did that I felt like I could move onto something else. Listening back to Yeast Mother, I realize there’s not enough organic elements for me. It’s too synthesized, too over the top. That was my goal, but it wasn’t what I wanted this time around. With MoonBladder I made a conscious choice and conscious effort to use organic instruments, like real guitars. I wanted to have organic instruments, organic sounds, field recordings mixed in with MIDI mixed in with analog synths. I wanted the sound to be more whole and more cohesive rather than everything being plugins and VSTs. I just wanted to take more care with it. Yeast Mother was meticulous, but MoonBladder… I learned from Yeast Mother and wanted to move on. I love abstract music and music which is hard to follow, I just wanted to do it a different way. It just sort of emerged and I just kind of let it do its thing. If it makes me happy, I keep it. I just let the music emerge and keep my intention as far out of it as I can, outside of knowing what I like and knowing what I want.
If people were to do some digging, they’d find you’ve had so many projects. What kind of came to mind with some of the more intense moments on MoonBladder took me back to Especially Like Sloth.
Yep. There’s always going to be a little bit of Sloth in me. That was basically, outside of my grindcore band in high school, that was the first project I had which was all me. Experimenting with 4-tracks and sound design. Unless you’re talking about Sculptured or Agalloch or something like that, most of my stuff was rooted in sound design or some cinematic expression. I started that journey with Sloth, so there’s always going to be a little bit of that in there. You’re right, especially with this record, it has some almost Agalloch moments because of Don [Anderson], but you’re always going to hear other things. I hear a bit of Nothing in there sometimes. It’s me, it’s who I am, and it’s going to come through. Personally, I think Moonbladder is my most realized and most cohesive thing I’ve ever done.
This feels like a culmination with all these interlocking pieces. You’re saying it’s your most realized piece, but did you go into this with that type of expected depth?
No, this was a big Hail Mary shot for me. It started as this stupid cover I didn’t really care about, and when layers started revealing themselves and things started to emerge, I realized I wanted to take this seriously. It was turning into something really cool. From there, I just wanted to take it beyond what I’ve done before. I was just way more, like I said earlier, I was way more meticulous about it, but there’s only so much control you can have over this. I thought it would be relegated to Bandcamp, maybe a couple people would hear it. I’m shocked. It’s going to be released on vinyl by Nefarious Industries, CD by Transcending… a whole PR campaign behind it, a full-length video. I thought nobody would care, but it’s the classic “the sum is greater than its parts.” I can’t even take much credit for it. We just stumbled into something moving and unique. I’m extremely proud of it. I did put a lot of work into it, obviously, but sometimes it’s just happy accidents or doing the right thing at the right time. I couldn’t be happier with it.
I wanted to talk about the guests on the album, as there are a bunch of people who make appearances on it. Be it members of Sculptured or Lawnmower Deth, what did you want each person to bring into the album?
“Guests” and “members” is a grey area for me. There’s a core to Snares, and that’s me, Marius, Robert, and Don. They’ll always be involved in Snares if they want to be. There’s some other revolving people… I don’t like to call them “guests,” really. It just depends on the record. Andy Winter’s been on the first two… when I start a record, I say “Hey, Robert. Send me something. I don’t care what it is.” “Marius, send me something. I don’t care what it is.” I take these pieces, mold these pieces, sometimes delete them outright. Then I send them a mixdown and ask for another layer. I might ask Don for a solo or an acoustic piece. It’s almost like paints on a palette. IT’s pretty rare I say I want something particular like style until the very end, like with Toby Driver on this record. I just wanted him to sing something, something awesome, and he did, but in the beginning pieces it’s just throwing shit at me and seeing what I can make happen. It’s hard, because sometimes I say something isn’t working and I have to delete the whole thing, but I make sure to work with people who understand it’s not personal… it’s not even their material, it’s just how it fits with what I’m trying to work with.
I wanted to talk about a story I’ve read which involves Lawnmower Deth
I love Lawnmower Deth!
So I’ve heard, to the point where you joined them onstage, dressed as a… chicken?
How did that happen?
Well, in high school I loved Lawnmower Deth. I found them on the Grindcrusher comp. They stuck out so strangely, like “How is this band on this label on this comp?” It didn’t make sense to me, but I really loved it, so I got Ooh Crikey It’s… Lawnmower Deth and I got their records and I listened to them all the time. On the CD I had for Ooh Crikey there’s some live songs at the end. I remember listening to them and thinking it’s so strange about this band in England playing these songs. I thought there’s no way I’d see this band, being a kid growing up in Montana. Fast forward 20 years and I’m touring Norway with Agalloch. The guy who runs the venue gives us a tour all over Trondheim and gets us all these beers… we get back to the venue and he takes off his shirt and he has this massive Lawnmower Deth tattoo on his chest. I was like What the fuck? And he said he did their artwork and has been their artist ever since Dan Seagrave did their cover! Because of him, he introduced me to the guys from Facebook. It turns out Lawnmower and Agalloch were playing Bloodstock on the same day. We ended up playing at noon or something on a Saturday and Lawnmower were headlining a different stage. They asked if I wanted to join them onstage and be the sheep for their song “Sheep Dip.” It was my favorite Lawnmower song, so it totally worked out. They’re super great guys. It was really surreal for me to be onstage with Lawnmower, and we’ve been friends ever since. I thought it would be cool to include Pete on this record — he was also on Yeast Mother. He doesn’t do very much, but I appreciate his contribution nonetheless. I think Snares is kind of unique because people get the record and I don’t remember what I did on it, it was so long ago and I changed so much. I’m sure Pete wouldn’t be able to tell you what he did.
There’s your connection as a fan of Lawnmower Deth and you have a member of on the album. What was it like asking someone from this thrash band to be on this very experimental recording?
It was unexpected! I figured people who knew Lawnmower Deth wouldn’t expect Pete [Lee] to be on a record like this. I also think that unless someone knows me very well, they wouldn’t expect me to be a fan, either. I thought it would look strange on paper, which I like. I ask people to be in Snares because… it’s two different things: I respect and admire them as a musician and I love them as a friend. Anyone who doesn’t fit those categories wouldn’t be on a Snares recording. Pete and I talk often. He’s a super good guy. I’ve been a fan forever. I asked him to recite some lyrics or poetry and I could use it as some jumbled vocals in the background. It’s a way for me to connect with people who I love, and it’s super fun. Why not? Why not ask Pete from Lawnmower Deth? It’s just so neat to look at it in that way. Pete’s a vocalist. He’s in a thrashy band, but the recording isn’t thrashing. Martti [Hill] is a drummer, but in Snares he bangs on bed frames and blows into singing bowls and things like that. I like to rethink things and think about music and have people involved in a different way. That’s really it. I ask people who I admire and I love.
This is coming out in tandem with another recording of yours which has been a long time coming: Sculptured’s The Liminal Phase. We have these two halves to Jason William Walton: this prog rock and metal and experimental and abstract styles. Do you feel you’ve encompassed yourself with these recordings?
There’s definitely more I want to cover, but this month is a nice sampling of me, in a way. MoonBladder is intensely personal to me, but also Sculptured is Don’s baby, but it’s almost mine as much as it is his, you know? There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears put into both records and it definitely wasn’t planned this way, but it’s nice to have both records coming out around the same time. Don’s doing PR for Sculptured and I’m doing this. It’s nice! I just texted him this morning, like “Decibel interview this morning!” and he said “Yeah! I did mine a few months ago!”
This is a nice sampling, but there’s so much more I want to do. I think I’m wrapping up another three or four records alone this year with different projects.
Care to divulge any?
It’s been out there but not a lot of people know Andy Whale from Bolt Thrower asked me to play bass in his new death metal band.
Yeah it’s really cool. It’s called Death Collector. It’s Andy and myself, and then Kieran from Ashen Crown on vocals and Mick from Zealot Cult on guitars. It’s killer. I’m super happy with the material. It’s a huge honor to have Andy ask me. I listen to the demo tracks and I get a huge smile on my face. It’s just huge, really good old school death metal like you’d expect from Andy Whale. I have the Poisoning Wave project with Joy Von Spain from Eye of Nix. I have Sleep Chains with Carl from Occlith and Chrch and Feral Season… It’s kind of like an industrial Godflesh type project, we’re working on a full-length. I have a Nothing reissue coming out on Transcending Records pretty soon. Lots in the works.
MoonBladder releases October 1 on Nefarious Industries.