Track by Track: AAWKS – ‘((((Heavy on the Cosmic)))))’

AAWKS band photo
photo by Carly Boomer

Back in 2019, Canadian fuzz rockers AAWKS formed in Barrie, Ontario. The band describes themselves as “the product of four acid casualties united by a love for high fantasy, psychedelics and heavy rock music.” Their newest album (((((Heavy on the Cosmic))))) turned my head with its thick guitar tone and interstellar psych embellishments. At its heart, this is a space-bound rock ‘n’ roll record that’s plenty heavy for doomhounds, and dirty enough for sludgelords.  In the crowded galaxy of stoner rock, AAWKS have made my favorite album within that genre this year.

To celebrate the album receiving the vinyl treatment from Black Throne Productions, I asked AAWKS for insight into this monolithic record. They responded with a track by track exploration of the album’s themes. Rip your bong and blast into deep space on rocket-fueled riffs by pressing play below. Then go beyond the sun and behind the music by reading comments from AAWKS about each song on (((((Heavy on the Cosmic))))).

“Beyond the Sun”

I was listening to a lot of Mephistofeles and early Black Sabbath around the time I wrote this song. I think it’s OK to show your influences on your sleeve as long as you’re not copying things note for note. There’s a fine line between paying homage to someone and ripping them off. I really love the way bands like Mephistofeles, Sabbath and Electric Wizard amongst others maintain an interesting sense of melody despite the music being heavy and evil sounding. Not to say I don’t enjoy harsh or screamed vocals—I totally do. But I’m a sucker for catchy, melodic vocals. “Beyond the Sun” was influenced by Frank Frazetta’s painting Red Planet. I like to make my own story up to a painting when I’m writing songs. This one depicts a group of people on a journey that eventually end up eclipsing their former beings, kind of like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. Also, I’ve always been happy with the tempo change at the end of that song. The whole, bringing the riff back but way slower and heavier deal never gets old for me.

“Sunshine Apparitions”

I remember that this song felt like it fell out of the ether into my lap. Every once in a while a song just falls into place really quickly without much struggle and when it does I usually dig them more because it feels like I didn’t write it. I think this song mostly came together in under an hour from beginning to end up. With AAWKS, once the initial song’s written we usually tweak a few things here and there over the course of time and chop a bit or add a harmony, if needed etc. With “Sunshine Apparitions” I tried to evoke that summertime feeling of having a cleansing, cathartic experience where everything is bright and technicolored and in that overly-saturated ’70s type film.

Frank Frazetta – “Red Planet”

“The Woods”

I love the simplicity of this song; I think that’s what makes it such a fun song to play live. Our good buddy Todd Connell from Halifax has an amazing arsenal of gear including a bunch of analog synthesizers so we asked him to throw on some ideas. If only he lived closer, I’d love to play live with him sometime. As the song goes from the chugging verse into the halftime chorus, I can remember trying to create the feeling of slowly being pulled into a pit or portal, kind of like the initial effects of when a chemical starts to overtake your brain. The song is all about stepping into another dimension through your third eye.

“All is Fine”

I heard someone recently say that this song made them think of that old ’80s cartoon He-Man? I like to hear that people are able to form a visual image when they hear our stuff. I guess one of my goals in making music is to try to create an experience for the listener the same way I’m able to. I enjoy that dissociative experience when I hear a great song and an involuntary mental movie happens and time ceases to exist. I really love how music is a psychoactive phenomenon that has the power to change the way our brains function. Sometimes it can be a visceral, energizing thing. Then sometimes it can take you away to another place and evoke a feeling or make you forget your worries. Anyway, with this song I remember trying to play with feels and time and to keep it rhythmically simple and powerful.

“The Electric Traveller”

When I was 10 years old my Mom bought me Black Sabbath’s first album on cassette. That album is still one of my favourites and a massive influence on our songs including this one. I can remember times when I’d be home alone after dusk or at night and not being able to listen the the first track on Sabbath’s self titled as my imagination would get the better of me. This song was influenced by another Frazetta painting, Death Dealer II. Like in “Beyond the Sun,” I made up my own narrative to the painting. In it, I wrote a story about a group of inter-dimensional warriors that have several adventures and eventually end up drinking poison and dying and then come back as ghosts that haunt the abandoned well of a forgotten church.

Frank Frazetta – “Death Dealer II”

“Space City”

This song is all about catharsis, shedding the old skin and stepping through a door into a new, wiser, deeper, more colourful experience. There have been a few times in my life where I’ve gotten to experience short glimpses of synesthesia, specifically, being able to hear colours. It was a very wonderful psychedelic experience where the colours had dimension, depth and an aural texture type of quality as well as visual hues. I attempted to describe that experience in this song as well as the feeling of a loss of a sense of “the self” where I felt an enlightened, de-personalized floating type of interaction with the world around me and the perception of time ceased to even exist. I remember not knowing if years or minutes had gone by. I used Roger Dean’s Floating Worlds paintings as inspiration for the visuals of this song.

“Star Collider”

I grew up in small town Ontario Canada listening to a lot of early Fu Manchu. Back then when we were broke and before the internet, we had no choice but to listen to the albums we had physical copies of. I had the albums No One Rides for Free, In Search Of and The Action is Go and I remember developing a deep relationship with those albums back then. I must have played them hundreds of times each at least. Anyway, “Star Collider” is heavily influenced by Fu Manchu. On the surface it’s about traveling in a spaceship. Which rules… but it’s really a metaphor for personal growth. Which is all fine and everything, but way less cool than traveling into unknown dimensions through space in a 1970’s version of a futuristic space ship. Check out John Berkey’s paintings of spaceships for what I’m talking about.

“Peeling Away”

Concept wise, this song continues on from “Star Collider” and “Beyond the Sun” with similar ideas of exploration and discovery. Our brains are such amazing structures and they can open windows of perception, experience and perspectives that are truly amazing. People often forget the fact that we’re all collectively traveling through space on a giant rock and circling around a huge ball of gas amongst an almost infinite number of other balls of gas all barrelling at increasingly faster speeds away from some theoretical centre point? This song is about how a powerful a perspective can be despite things being chaotic and stressful.

Artwork by John Berkey

(((((Heavy on the Cosmic))))) Album Art

Album covers have a special place in my life. There’s something so great about looking at a great album cover while listening to the album’s music. I can remember reading liner notes and staring at so many great ones growing up. Still, to this day, I continue to have that same feeling decades later. Our good friend and a local scene veteran, Sean Alten (Fly Graphics and Dead Cosmetics) and I collaborated on the concept for (((((Heavy on the Cosmic))))). Despite how many similar covers and bands there are I really dig all the stoner/doom/sludge/psych tropes.

I think the fantastical visuals have staying power in our culture because beneath the surface they’re representations of things that we can relate to. So things like demons, orbs, giants, hooded figures, spells and portals pop up in our songs as something that might represent resilience, the unknown, novelty, hope, love, dread or growth amongst other things.

The cover for (((((Heavy on the Cosmic))))) depicts a purple figure with a floating orb above its head, blue mountains and an orange sky all of which is supposed to represent another dimension or a different planet or somewhere other than our regular blue sky, green trees every day earth but also something familiar and intriguing and possibly unsettling.

Pre-order ((((HEAVY ON THE COSMIC))))) from Black Throne Productions HERE

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AAWKS album cover