There are those who believe that heaven isn’t too far away, that heaven is the whole of the heart, that heaven is a place on earth, perhaps purchased by a Lady who knows all that glitters is gold. And then there is The Band In Heaven.
How heavenly you find the sounds of The Band in Heaven is directly proportional to your belief in the healing power of hooks both sleazy and sludgy, buried but breathing beneath mountains of steady beats and screaming guitars. As demonstrated on their just released “Sleazy Dreams” seven-inch on HoZac Records (home of Austin Psych Fest 2011 alumni The Fungi Girls, among others), Florida’s fuzziest create a Heaven that’s impossible to ignore, hard to escape and potentially filled with dogs dressed as ghosts. Maybe heaven is a place on earth, after all.
We caught up with singer/songwriter/sludgemaker Ates Isildak to ask him about the afterlife of rock and roll, shortly after it was announced that The Band In Heaven would perform at Austin Psych Fest 2012. Enjoy …
Can the feeling derived from making music approach something that could be fairly described as heavenly, from your perspective? What are the benefits to your everyday life that you credit to being part of a band and having a creative outlet? What is least heavenly to you about being in a band?
Making music – being in a band – is probably the least heavenly experience I can think of. This is a quote from the author Mark Z. Danielewski that most accurately captures the way I feel about art and (our) music: “Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.” The process is hard, constant uphill battles, with little support from friends or family. Someone reading this would ask, “Then why do you bother playing/making music?” Because I like everything else in life less than music. I hate music the least.
What was on your minds when you made the decision to call yourselves The Band In Heaven? Can we take it as a reference to the common conversations that occur whenever a notable musician passes away (“Man, I bet you they’ve got a great band in heaven …”), or does it originate from another place entirely?
The band name comes from the Talking Heads song “Heaven,” and seemed to describe perfectly (at least at the time of dreaming up the band) drone/shoegaze music. From “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens” to “the band in Heaven plays my favorite song, plays it one more time, plays it all night long.” It resonates with how stark our music is. Black and white, like TV static.
Was there anything in particular that you were seeking to achieve upon the formation of The Band In Heaven – meaning, did you have a certain type of sound that you wanted to explore, perhaps influenced by the inability to do so in previous musical ventures? Were there previous musical ventures of note and if so, what did you take from them that you now apply to The Band In Heaven?
I was in a pretty silly psych rock band that wouldn’t play my songs, would only use expensive, vintage gear, would dress up in costumes every show (I refuse to say their names). I wanted to start a band where I could play my own songs with my shitty gear and wear the shit I was wearing when I rolled out of bed in the morning. In that last band, we had been working on the same concept album for about a year and a half, and never even had a real release the three-plus years we played together. In this band, some stuff I record in the middle of the night and put on the internet. Some of our recordings and (tape) releases are first take kind of stuff. This band was less about “sound” and more about freedom.
We love the video for “Sleazy Dreams,” not only because it helps preempt any questions regarding whether or not The Band In Heaven has anything in common with Stryper (answer: no). What else can you tell us about this video and this song, the crux of which is a fuzzed-out riff approximately eight miles high? How important is the aesthetic aspect of your band to you? What are your own “sleazy” dreams? Do you prefer your dreams to be mostly sleazy or sludgy, and how do you tell the difference between the two?
I just love that Graham Denman (director) and Kyle Stryker (DP) had a dark and sinister vision. Their footage was actually already a work in progress before we had anything to do with it. It was some strange short film that they had never released. I had seen the footage and fell in love with it. It’s filmed on 8mm, and touches on religious imagery and symbolism that I feel like no artists try to tackle anymore. The lyrics to “Sleazy Dreams” touch on the same subjects. I never like music videos that reflect a song word-for-word, scene-for-scene, but I also really abhor that new trend of putting random abstract images that have nothing to do with the song or band in a loop to the band’s music and calling it a music video. As a child, I loved music videos, especially the eerie ones (Marilyn Manson, NIN, Busta Rhymes, Radiohead, Aphex Twin, Bjork, Tool). We want to work alongside artists that aren’t afraid of scaring people, being a little jarring. I can’t talk about my own sleazy dreams here, but if you can figure out the lyrics to “Sleazy Dreams,” you’ll get close. And a “sludgy” dream is one you are stuck in and have to wade through slowly.
Speaking of aesthetic aspects, we’re unable to resist falling in love with the cover art to your Hozac Records seven-inch, featuring those spooky dogs dressed in classic Halloween regalia? Who’s responsible for this idea and its execution?
That’s Matt Lifson’s painting (www.mattlifson.com). I went to high school with him, and he went from good to amazing as a painter. He has such a dark vision for his artwork, but it’s also playful at times. I saw that painting (it’s called “Black Hole”) and immediately wanted it to be mine. He said it was fine for us to use it. I love working with other artists I admire.
Are you from Florida originally? In what ways do you feel that Florida has contributed to your musical evolution and education? Will Florida ever shake its association with being “the death metal capital of the world”? Aside from The Band In Heaven, has there ever been a band from Florida more terrifying than The Rascals?
Born and raised in Florida – we all were. I used to hate it here but I’ve grown to be thankful. It keeps a person far away enough from the “relevant” music world that they can work on their own in music in peace. And it honestly has some of the best bands I’ve ever heard. Every time someone posts about a Florida band being worthwhile, they act so surprised. But check out Cop/City Chill Pillars, Love Handles, The Jameses, Guy Harvey, The Dewars, Snake Hole, Luma Junger, Tumbleweave, Weird Wives, Surfer Blood, etc. … those are all bands just from South Florida, all in the same community, putting out some of the best music in the country. There is something going right here. The only disadvantage we have is that it takes like 7 hours to get to the next closest state. It’s hard for us to tour from here.
How did you first hear of Austin Psych Fest? Are there any bands in particular that you’re excited by the prospect of seeing live while you’re in Texas?
I’ve followed (but never been to) Austin Psych Fest since year one. It usually has the best line-up of bands compared to any other festival, in my opinion. There are many great festivals throughout the country, but they all seem like money-making schemes at the end. Psych Fest seems to exist only to showcase and support modern day psychedelic and garage rock bands. Every year I’ve wished I could go. We were so excited to be invited to play this year. Really excited to see The Brian Jonestown Massacre. But this year’s entire line-up looks amazing. There isn’t a single band I’m not excited to see.
Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that your next release will be released on super-limited single-sided cassette, containing sitar-infused, sludge-pop versions of “Heaven” by Warrant and “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure?
No joke that we have already have a “Heaven”-themed concept cover album in mind. It is a wonderful word. Here are the songs it will contain: Talking Heads – “Heaven,” Jens Lekman – “Tram #7 to Heaven,” The Pixies – “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” The Cure – “Just Like Heaven,” The Psychedelic Furs – “Heaven,” David Lynch’s “In Heaven” … there are more but I forget now and I seem to have lost the list (“Stairway to Heaven” is not on the list because we are not good enough musicians to play that song).
Fred “Mr.” Rogers (a huge Boards of Canada fan, by the way) once suggested the following: “The connections we make in the course of a life – maybe that’s what heaven is.” Your thoughts?
It’s probably silly but I still hope heaven to be a final destination. What it could/would be like, I have on idea, but the concept that heaven is something that is happening now, or something that is based on a state of mind or understanding, is terrifying. Our minds are messes. It wouldn’t be fair. I want something to look forward to.
What’s next for The Band In Heaven?
Soon we’ll be releasing the “Sludgy Dreams” music video directed by Alice Cohen (check out her stuff). Then we’ll be playing SXSW (so far, the HoZac showcase, the pre-Psych Fest showcase, the Cherrywood Sustainable showcase, probably the GetBent showcase – maybe some more), then Austin Psych Fest. We have a few other music videos in the works, and we’re slowly working on a full length. We’d like to tour some more but we’re pretty poor. We’ll make our way to New York sometime soon, and after that we’ll make our way to California. What’s next for you?