Thursday, March 28, 2024

Interview with A.Moortal by Dave Wolff

Interview with A.Moortal by Dave Wolff

Were you born into a musical environment? Because your first exposure to it was when you played flute in middle school. Did you practice with a particular type of flute? And did you begin to consider a career in classical music at this time?
I wasn’t actually born into a musical environment. My parents both liked music but they didn’t play. My mom had played the flute in school but it wasn’t something that she stuck with. I really only chose band class and flute because my Mom always told me she did it when she was a kid and it sounded fun. The flute I had was just the cheapest one that the local music store had. I did ask to play the piccolo my third year but the band teacher said no. The greatest impact flute had on my music career is it led some friends to decide to teach me bass guitar. My two best friends in middle school were Sam Lanyon (of Anomalous) and Aaron Pauley (of Jamie's Elsewhere and Of Mice and Men). We were all new to music and they decided that I could learn to play bass because I had played flute. Still doesn’t make sense to me but they were right! We started our first band, Meniss Two Society or MTS. We were terrible but we had fun. I did learn some basic music theory playing flute that still helps me today but otherwise everything is self-taught and learned from friends.
When I got into bass my Dad helped me get my first bass guitar. I worked construction for him over the summer to pay for my first bass and amp. When he learned how affordable starting instruments were he decided to get a guitar. So we really started learning at the same time. Him having a guitar in the house led to me picking it up and starting to just kinda mess around. He thought I had a knack for it and when I was fourteen he came home with a guitar for me. I didn’t even ask. He just saw I was playing it and thought I’d enjoy it. I haven’t stopped playing guitar and writing since.

Did Meniss Two Society primarily perform locally? Are there any recordings they made during their tenure that can still possibly be heard today?
We never left the garage. Halfway through eighth grade Aaron Pauley moved out of town and the band died with his departure. But we all learned a lot and ventured onto new projects. I think there might be an old VHS tape somewhere of us playing and skateboarding but I have no idea where it is. So sadly nothing still remains.

If MTS was essentially a garage band that played for fun, what did it teach you about writing and arranging songs, as well as practicing with other musicians?
The biggest lesson it taught me is to follow the drummer. If everyone in the band follows the drummer, even if the drums are off, you’ll sound locked in. Other than that it really just showed me that playing music is fun and felt like home. It was a big step in becoming who I am today. And of course the basics of being in a room with other musicians. Getting used to what a full band sounds like in a room. How to set up an amp to work in the band instead of on its own. Stuff like that.

As a result of switching to guitar and discovering Disturbed, Slipknot, and Sum 41, your paradigm shifted. At this point did you decide to work at being a professional musician? In what ways did you relate to the bands you discovered and where did your tastes go from there?
I was always the weird kid. I got picked on a lot. My friends showed me some bands and it was just so raw. It was what all my feelings sounded like. This is when I realized music is what I was meant to do. I’ve been trying to make a career out of it ever since. I started writing on the guitar and every time I wrote an angry song idea I felt better about myself and my life. Over the years my tastes have evolved and broadened. I started going to local shows. I listened to everything from pop punk to extreme death metal. In recent years I’ve even started listening to top 40s pop music. Just to see what I can learn from it. These days I mostly listen to metal, I like a lot of newer stuff. Alpha Wolf, Thrown and Knocked Loose are always on my playlists. Slipknot still never misses. Lamb of God is one of my all-time favorites. I still listen to a lot of older metalcore too. 2000s Killswitch Engage is just untouchable.

When you started attending shows, who were the first local bands you saw? In what ways did they inspire you to compose music?
The first local show I went to was headlined by a local band called Below Ground. This would have been around 2004. They actually still play some shows and I’m pretty good friends with a few of the members now. The experience of going to an underground show with other people was so amazing to me. I still can’t explain it but it was like I had finally figured out who I was. I just wanted to feel that way all the time and help other people feel that way too.

Several years ago, I explored Celtic music and folk music. Extreme metal and punk bands incorporate these genres, and I see how they work together. What genres do you listen to that are compatible despite appearing incompatible at first?
I’ve always said metal is just classical music with electricity. I’ve always enjoyed classical compositions and opera. Pop music is probably the biggest departure from metal that I borrow from. A lot of metal feels like just throwing every idea at the wall. I love it, don't get me wrong, but I think the way pop music just gets to the point is really cohesive from start to finish is something every musician can learn from.

Describe Alpha Wolf, Thrown and Knocked Loose to those who may not be familiar with them. In your opinion, what do they offer that has not been done before?
All three I would classify as Metallic Hardcore. Definitely more punk-derived than metal. All three bands use pretty simple guitar riffs combined with elaborate drums, intense drums, and strange noises that aren’t exactly musical but sound really good in context. Knocked Loose has blown up in the last few years and does some weird, almost art piece things with their music. Last year they released two songs that seamlessly blended together and a music video to go with it. Alpha Wolf and Thrown are just so heavy in a way that I haven’t heard in more traditional metal and I really enjoy it.

When did you decide to start writing music after all of your exposure to music? At this time, what were your thoughts regarding being a musician and being a part of a band?
Once I moved from bass to guitar I started writing and composing. I kinda skipped over the whole “learn other people’s music thing.” I only learned a couple riffs here and there. I only recently started learning songs in addition to writing. As a new musician most of my thoughts on music were “I like this but I’d like it more if it did something different.” So I started trying to do that. As for being in a band I didn’t have many thoughts other than “I need to do this.” Playing live makes me feel alive in a way I can’t really explain. It’s more important than a hobby but less important than breathing.

When you compose music, how much effort are you putting into blending classical-inspired metal with direct, to-the-point music like pop punk?
I don’t think about it a whole lot. The writing process usually just starts with a guitar riff, sometimes a lyric, a feeling, or a story, but usually a guitar riff. I’ll record the guitar idea, put drums to it, then I’ll go through and pick apart its key elements. See what notes I’m using, determine the key, see if I’m moving through a chord progression in it, anything that might inform where the song should go. That’s where the pop influence comes in now. I used to just kinda throw riffs at the wall and call it a song. Now I break down the original idea and use that to grow the song. In my opinion this helps keep the music coherent and like it’s a connected piece of music and not just a bunch of ideas.

Can people instantly recognize your sound as one that belongs to you as a result of your approach to writing and combining genres?
I’ve been told over the years that I have a very recognizable style. Even friends who aren’t really into heavy music, I’ll show them something I’m working on and they’ll be like “Yup that’s an Aaron riff!” I do think that I have a way of writing that is somewhat unique to me which I’m really thankful for. I didn’t consciously cultivate that sound, it’s just happened over the years. I do have a very high output for creating and think that is what has honed my skills more than anything. I’ve definitely written some trash songs but I write like two to four songs or ideas a month. I think doing that for like ten years now has made me the musician I am now.

In your opinion, how important is it to channel emotions that people can relate to while listening to your music?
I think emotion is extremely important. Sometimes we musicians can get so caught up in technique and theory things can become too clinical. We forget that the theory and technique are tools to help us achieve emotional expression and not the whole point. I’m definitely guilty of this myself. But to answer the original question I think an argument could be made that emotion is the most important. Music is emotion. Most of my songs are about my battles with mental health and I think that comes through. I hope it does and that it can give some catharsis to people who have similar experiences.

Does your method of writing lyrics reflect your musical compositions in terms of how you channel feeling?
It varies from song to song. Lyrics are usually an afterthought for me. I’ll sit down with an idea and turn that into a full song instrumental. Usually I’ll start to see a story while I’m working through the music. That story will become the lyrics. Like I said before I’ve been struggling with my mental health pretty much my whole life. That feeling is always fueling my writing. A song will start from a vague sense of despair, or anxiety, or anger, and then get more specific.
Sometimes it’s the complete opposite too. My song “Hall Of Mirrors” started with the cover art. I was just messing with designs when it was slow at work and I came up with the artwork and the title. Then I decided on a story: it’s about someone who has betrayed you and has created struggles in your life. Once I had that I started working on the lyrics, no music at this point. I had 90% of the lyrics written before I ever picked up my guitar. I knew how I wanted the chorus of the song to sound vocally when I started working on the music too. I was screaming to a metronome in the car on my way from work that day. Once I got the guitar in my hand I had lyrics, vocal patterns, and a tempo. Then I started writing music to follow that. Short answer: yes, no, maybe, and sometimes.

What is the total amount of material you've released to date? Do you handle the release and distribution of your work independently, given your method of songwriting?
As of today, March 8th 2024, I have sixteen singles out, plus a new song releasing March 15th and another on May 17th. I plan on releasing a single every other month the rest of the year. I might even throw out a couple extra releases depending on how the year goes. I also have a physical CD I made by hand with thirteen tracks on it. It’s a compilation of the singles I’ve released over the last two years and a couple extras.
I do handle everything myself. I like to steadily release songs instead of an album every couple years. Right now I’m using Distrokid because it’s easy and affordable. I have a couple upcoming releases that I’m using Earache Digital Distribution to try out. See if it works better.

If you were to seek indie labels to reach a wider audience, where would you begin? Do you know what demographic and type of label you think would be a good fit for what you're doing?
I used to dream of a label. To get a record deal. That was the only way for years. Now I’m more interested in going the DIY route. My goal is to reach enough fans that the labels come to me. I’m not currently signed but I am working with Self Made Records LLC on marketing. It’s a cool set up because I’m still in charge of all my music and art but I get help with finding my audience.

What label of Erik’s were you signed to previously? Could you add how well it helped you gain exposure for your work?
I signed with Mistanthropik Records a few years ago. They helped me get interviews, reviews, and a lot of playlist spots. That’s why I was excited to work with Erik again!

How did you come to work with Self Made Records LLC and Earache Digital Distribution for promotion and distribution? In what ways have you been able to maintain creative control over your music?
I was signed to a label that Erik Leviathan ran a few years ago. Self Made reached out to me and said they wanted to work with me. When I found out it was the same team I said yes. They work with Earache distro so I tried it on their recommendation. I still have full creative control. That was never even a discussion.

When it comes to some musical genres, how do you define screaming? Do you think watching YouTube videos by vocal coaches would benefit your vocals? It’s common for coaches to demonstrate the importance of keeping your cords open to prevent damage.
Screaming is hard to define. I think any vocal that is heavily distorted could count. Anything from AC/DC to punk bands yelling at the top of their lungs are all a type of screaming. I’ve been doing extreme vocals for over fifteen years now and I still watch videos on Youtube and TikTok. I think I’m a pretty okay screamer but I’ll never think I’m so good I can’t learn something new. I actually just started learning proper warm ups a few years ago from watching Youtube videos.

Which vocal coaches have you watched on YouTube?
I watch Voice Hacks and videos featuring Melissa Cross that emphasize the use of melodic vocal techniques rather than shrieking. David Benites of Extreme Vocal Institute has some really good vocal tips. I actually found him on TikTok originally. Even in just sixty seconds he can be really helpful. Justin from Tallah has some really good videos on Youtube. I think his page is called Hungry Lights. I also watched “The Zen Of Screaming” by Melissa Cross when I was first starting to do screams seriously and not just for fun. Back then she was really the only one teaching it that I knew of.

How helpful have Melissa Cross and the other vocal coaches you have watched been to you? What adaptations did you make to the information you obtained from them?
The biggest thing was learning resonance control. I’m not a singer so I didn’t know how to control where my voice was in my body. Melissa gave a lot of really good singing advice that a lot of screamers overlook, but learning it really helped me get a fuller sound. I would also recommend her for learning proper breathing. I was lucky enough to learn that from the flute.

Do you have any vocalists who have inspired you as a vocalist over the last fifteen years? It Different singers from King Diamond to HR of Bad Brains have different styles to suit different moods. Is there something similar that you do with your lyrics?
Randy Blythe from Lamb of God. Probably my favorite screamer of all time. I really tried to emulate him in the beginning. Howard Jones (Light the Torch, ex Killswitch Engage) and Johnny Plague (Winds of Plague) were also really big influences in the beginning. For lyrics inspiration is more sporadic. Sometimes it’s what I’m listening to that’s inspiring, sometimes it’s a conversation or life event. I’m definitely influenced by the tropes of the genre. Metalcore kinda has a lane when it comes to lyrics. I try not to get stuck in doing things too the same, but you also kinda have to stay in the lane a little to appeal to fans of the genre. It’s a careful balance for sure.

When you compose, what genres do you tend to draw from most frequently? Is this different for each single? What methods do you use to reinterpret your influences?
Genres I think are probably Nu Metal and Metalcore. That’s what I listen to the most so there’s usually something I’m listening to a lot that’s in my head. It does differ from song to song for sure, but I like what I like ya know? But none of that is set in stone. Sometimes I’m just walking around humming a random melody and think “I should play that on guitar and put a breakdown under it” You never really know when or where inspiration is coming.
A lot of the time I’m just playing guitar for fun and I’ll improvise something I like. Then I’ll record it real quick and start messing with it. Change some notes around, add changes, have the root notes of it move through a progression. It’s a lot of just having fun with the guitar and experimenting.

Is it your practice to tailor your lines to fit the guitar progressions behind them, or do you fit them to the mood of the song as a whole?
Song as a whole definitely. When it comes to lyrics and vocals I follow the drums more than anything. But you gotta pay attention to everything going on. For example sometimes I’ll drop a line at the end of a part because I want some cool guitar run or drum fill to stand out. I’m a musician first so I’m usually making the vocals fit around the music. But like I said before, sometimes it’s totally different. That’s what makes music so fun, there’s no right or wrong, just what you create. Sure there’s “rules” but those are guidelines and ways to explain what you did.

As musicians find new ways to work within their genres, rules can be bent and stretched. Change some notes and experiment as you suggested. How much do you want to break the mold?
I never set out to break the mold. Or to fit in it. I just create and see where it takes me. Admittedly I don’t think I’m doing anything super groundbreaking. I think I sound different from most metalcore, but I’m not redefining the genre or anything. I think metal as a whole is expanding and I’m expanding with it.

Which of the singles you have released so far has proven most personal for you? What made those songs personal and what kind of cathartic experience was it to write them?
That’s a tough one. All of my music is very personal to me. I think my upcoming release “Hollow” (out 3/15/24 shameless plug) is definitely up there. Maybe just because it’s fresh on my mind. It’s a song about being depressed. That’s it. Not getting better, not overcoming. Just a song about how hard it can be to live with mental illness. I was in a funk and just needed to scream about it. The song is just catharsis for me, and hopefully anyone who hears it.
Another track that comes to mind is “Wage Slave”. When I wrote it I was working a dead end job, and hated it. I was just a number to them and barely scraping by. And I was just pissed and sad about it. I was looking for something better but I wasn’t having any luck. So I wrote a song about wanting to change the world so everyone can be happy, but also about wanting to fight your middle management boss in the parking lot.

Are “Hollow” and “Wage Slave” written in a way for younger and older listeners to relate to? Are the ideas about overcoming certain situations a common theme in your lyrics?
They’re written for me to relate to. I’d like to think my writing is timeless and for everyone, but that feels egotistical. These songs are written for the depressed and people fed up with the grind respectively. If that’s you, you’ll probably like them. Overcoming is a pretty strong theme in my music for sure. I try to be optimistic. “Hollow” is a departure from that. It’s not meant to be about overcoming. But I think that makes it an outlier in my catalog. What is the ease of composing solo as opposed to other musicians? Is this arrangement something that you would like to change at some point, or are you satisfied as a solo musician? The biggest difference is time. I don’t have to wait for someone to sign off on a part or spend half an hour teaching people parts to see if it works in the song or not. I can just write it and record it and decide. It can be really frustrating to have a group of people weighing in on your art. Especially if they’re not bringing anything to the table creatively. A.Moortal will stay a solo project. It was started as an outlet for me. I’m in some bands too but they satisfy different needs.

Is your desire for creative control reflected in your desire to independently produce your music?
Honestly self producing is more out of necessity. I’m a poor musician. I can’t really afford studios or producers. And I live in a small town, there’s not really anywhere to do it that’s reasonably close. I started learning production in high school because it was the only way I was gonna get my stuff recorded. I do like it though. It allows me to work as I write instead of needing to write a whole EP or album and then plan to record it.

Do you have any ideas for new material since your last release? Can you recall any recent experiences in your life that might serve as inspiration for lyrics?
My next two releases are fully finished and waiting. One will release in May and the next in July. I have an instrumental finished that will get vocals soon. For inspiration I think that one will use a haunting as a metaphor for generational trauma. Recently life has actually been pretty good, but it hasn’t always been and there’s a lot in the world I don’t like so I’ll never be lacking something to write about.

Given the personal nature of your work with A.Moortal, do you hope to be received by the metalcore industry? How do you weigh the importance of mass exposure and self-expression?
I would love to be accepted by the industry, yes. But it’s not the most important thing to me. I truly believe in my music and what I do. I don’t need to be world famous, I just want enough success to not need a day job. My hope is that if I just keep doing what I’m doing enough people will find it and like it so that I can make a living from it. Thank you for this interview by the way! Hopefully it will help get me in that direction!

Besides creating music as a solo artist, what else would you like to accomplish?
I have a new band I’m working on called RVR (pronounced river) that I’m really excited about. It’s more pop punk and rock. Just catchy, fun music. Other than that the goal is always just to be happy. Music makes me happy. My friends make me happy. My partner Ari makes me happy. My goal is to keep those things in my life and make as time as possible for them.

-Dave Wolff

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