Aaron Turner has already had a hand in two of 2016′s golden moments with Sumac and Mamiffer. Now he’s out on the road with both acts, touring around Europe like a hirsute machine – the Bristol show of which I caught recently.
(He’s now also at peak beard, which is exciting for everyone involved.)
Double duty is exhausting and the whole operation was under pressure to strict deadlines so we were very grateful that Aaron had the time to sit down with us to talk about food on the road, sonic differences and fond collaborations:
Hey Aaron! So you’re out on the road with two bands at the moment. How’s the tour going?
It’s going very well, and actually being in two bands every night has been surprisingly easy and enjoyable. Of course musically I knew that both would be fun but I also thought it might be a little bit taxing to try to do two bands back to back – but it’s worked out very well.
They’re quite different sonically, I guess.
They are – however I feel like they’re also complementary. In some way I feel like there’s a lot of commonality, even if aesthetically or on a surface level they seem quite different. As far as the intentions behind both projects there’s a lot of common ground as well.
You’ve released a lot of material in the last few years, both in these two projects and elsewhere.
Do you have a personal philosophy for releasing lots of material, or for having a big creative rush? Or is it a coincidence?
It’s intentional in the sense that I want to be creatively active as much as possible. It’s what makes life worth living for me, aside from my personal life which is also very important to me.
But in terms of what I do in the world and what I contribute in the world and what I want to do with the energy, I have to devote to some sort of creative practise. This is very much how I like to operate. It does occasionally become a bit overwhelming simply because there are so many things I want to accomplish and so many people I want to work with, however most of the time I feel like this is very much the right course for me to be on.
For quite some years with Isis that took up so much of my time that I wasn’t able to devote a lot of attention to working with other people and exploring other musical avenues, so when Isis disbanded and when I also changed other aspects of my personal life I found that I had a lot more time to do different things with different people and I purposefully avoided being in a band that was as full-time active as Isis was. I felt like I would be more engaged and more challenged and more satisfied by being able to spend more time writing and recording and collaborating than just going out on tour and performing the same material over and over.
So I guess a theme for tonight is collaboration; a lot of the bands here tonight are collaborations of previously very successful projects. Is there anyone in particular who’d be a dream collaboration for you?
There’s a lot of people that I would love to work with. I feel very fortunate that a lot of the time people I’ve never dreamed I would work with I’ve ended up working with; Circles for instance, Justin Broadrick from Greymachine, that would be another one. And then people like Brian (Cook) who’s playing in Sumac and also currently playing in Mamiffer – and also Faith who is in Mamiffer – are people who made music that I immediately gravitated towards when I first heard it, and of course at the time had no idea that I would end up playing music with them. So that’s always an interesting thing to look back at how that paths that we all travel have ended up converging and leading to various things.
I think that’s one of the best parts of being creative and also being part of a creative network – that you end up making connections with people that you would never have otherwise encountered in life. The personal connection as well as what happens artistically really changes life on very many levels. I mean talking about Mamiffer – Faith and I started out just having a partnership between her old band Everlovely Lightningheart and my label, Hydra Head. That later led to me being a contributor on the first Mamiffer album and from there our personal lives converged, and again that’s something that I never imagined would have happened but is in many ways kind of what I always hoped for for myself.
Is there anything in terms of style or genre that’s different from what you’re doing now which you’d like to explore later on?
Maybe not genre, I don’t give a lot of thought to genre in the sense that I’m not trying to fit anything that I’m doing into a specific mould. In fact most of the time I’m purposefully working against that. One thing that I do really enjoy doing and would like to do more of is purely improvised music, something I’ve done on my own a fair amount and have begun to do more and more with other people. I feel like that’s a way of working and a process that’s really exciting to me and something that I think could lead me towards some things that I’m imagining and wanting to do but haven’t yet been able to so I think that’s definitely something I want to do more of as time goes on.
I think that’ll follow on quite nicely from some of the stuff that you’re doing now – the new Sumac record is quite expansive…
Uh-huh, yeah. That’s something we’ve purposefully built into the framework to have the freedom to expand or contract certain sections or even just abandon structure almost entirely and leave room for chance and accident to play a part in what we’re doing. That was part of the goal from the very beginning of writing music for this project, before I even knew who the other band members were gonna be. And now I have a better sense of how we can all work together I think that we’ll probably try to do more with that part of our sound and learn more about how we can work together and to further dismantle the boundaries.
Read our review of What One Becomes here
With Sumac is there anything you’ve been able to explore – with this project and these particular contributors – that you haven’t been able to do previously?
Well we just touched on improvisational factors, definitely. One thing that I did hear in there with Isis early on and then we sort of abandoned that – doing that. I’ve been able to do it some in Mamiffer, that’s definitely a big part of the way Faith thinks about and approaches the music in that group. But this is obviously more in the realm of heavy stuff or more rock oriented approach so that was always something that I wished I had been able to do more of in Isis. I’m very happy to be doing more in this.
There’s some other things that I’m really enjoying about this which are new for me. One is a more minimal lineup. The other main heavy bands I’ve been in – Isis and Old Man Gloom – are four and five pieces. I always liked the density that you could achieve with bigger rock style lineups – however I really wanted to be able to explore more in terms of how a smaller lineup brings out more nuances in everybody’s playing. You hear more of a character of each individual player. I really like that pared-down simplicity of that.
One other thing that comes to mind is being able to write in a totally uninhibited way. I think early on in Isis I was writing a lot of what I just wanted to write but then over time everybody’s common tastes started to shift a little and everybody started pulling in different directions, so it became a lot harder to feel really free with the song writing. And Old Man Gloom – there’s just some ways that everybody plays and just the way that we operate that don’t really allow for really complex songwriting. That’s something I always wanted to be able to do more of and that’s certainly where with Sumac – from the very beginning – was to write exactly what I wanted to write without thinking about the opinions of the other people who were involved or about trying to write towards someone’s specific way of playing, but just write exactly what I wanted to hear and then hopefully find the right people to do it with – which fortunately I did.
So you’re a busy guy obviously – what are you interested in outside of music?
Visual art has always been important to me, and it’s something that I’ve done less and less of in the last five or ten years because music has taken up more and more of my time. Every time I draw or paint – especially painting – I really enjoy it and I miss it and I’m reminded of how much I enjoy it, so that’s something that I hope to find more time to do. I don’t imagine that happening anytime soon but I hope that there’s a time in my life again where I can delve more deeply into that.
Then I would say that my personal life has become increasingly more important to me – y’know before Faith and I got together and during many of the years I was in Isis and even prior to that, my main goal was to just be out in the world: to be touring a lot; to be social; to be just doing as much as I could in an outward sense. I’ve found that as time has gone on and I’ve gotten older having a home life that I really enjoy and y’know working on the place where we live, and being really rooted in a place and connected to it has become a lot more important to me. Faith and I are expecting our first child and I’m really looking forward to that – one of the things that’s been exciting for me just as a person throughout life is doing things and evolving towards new ways of thinking and doing things that open up my perspective, and I feel like this is inevitably going to do that in a very profound way. I’m looking forward to seeing how that changes my life.
That theme of togetherness comes through in a lot of Mammifer’s music.
Yeah, yeah definitely – it’s very intimate, very personal music. I think that that is in some ways a good reflection on how we are as people.
Read our review of Mamiffer’s The World Unseen here
What are your current projects you’re working on at the moment, alongside the two you’re on the road with?
There’s a second Split Cranium record in the works, the basic parts of which were done last year and after this round of touring with Sumac I’m hoping to get back to that so we can finish it. There’s stuff for both Hydra Head and Siege – new releases that are in the works – that’s kind of an ongoing thing where whenever we’re not on tour we’re at home working on those things so there’s a lot of label work to get back to.
Musically there isn’t a whole lot more that’s currently in the works; there’s a record I did with William Fowler Collins, a collaborative album which is finished and will be released shortly. Another collaborative record I did with Daniel Menche which is almost finished and hopefully will be released shortly. Then probably the next two things after the Split Cranium that will get worked on are the next Mamiffer record which Faith has already written a good portion of, and hopefully a new Sumac record, releasing that as well. I feel very inspired with the writing for this band so I want to keep doing that as actively as I can.
There’s a lot of momentum there.
Who are you listening to right now? Doesn’t have to be an inspiration particularly, just anything you’re enjoying.
When I’m at home I’m listening to things all the time and a lot of different things. It used to be when I was younger I would find a record and focus on that and just listen to it over and over, and as I’ve gotten older that happens less and less. There is occasionally a record that I will latch onto and find myself listening repeatedly but more often that not I just want to hear as much new music as I can whenever possible, so that means more than half of what I listen to is a record that I’m hearing for the first time.
That said, some things that come to mind that I have been listening to repeatedly – or at least before we left for the tour – the new Carriage record I’m enjoying quite a bit. Uh – the last Mount Eerie record Sauna is a very good one that was getting repeat rotations in our house, the first Betty Davis album, her self-titled album has been growing on me more, and more so those are just a few things that come to mind as far as stuff that grabbed me initially but I’ve also felt compelled to return to.
When you guys are out on the road, where do you like to go to eat?
Oh man! I wish it were easier. That’s one of the things that’s hard about leaving home. Faith and I really actually enjoy cooking and eating the food that we make and where we live there’s not much around us so we can’t really go out to eat so that nightly ritual or, uh, daily ritual of preparing and eating food is something we miss when we’re gone. There are places we go on tour or places that we’ve been to repeatedly where sometimes we have a favourite spot where we know to go back to. Unfortunately we haven’t had the time on this tour – partially because of the double duty thing – to be able to do that. I would say my ability to eat fast food and enjoy it has greatly diminished over time so if there is a chance for us to have some good healthy vegan or at least vegetarian food, we always opt for that one when time permits. There have been a couple instances on this tour where we have been fed at the venue and the food that was prepared has been excellent so that’s always nice – I mean a prepared meal made by somebody who’s involved with the show is always a very welcome thing; you don’t have to go anywhere and everybody can sit down and eat together and that’s a really nice experience.
And a sense of community.
Yeah, exactly yeah. Yeah it kinda sucks when everybody has to just kinda scatter and fend for themselves and then you don’t get the enjoyment of everybody being together which is for me one of the highlights of being on tour with a bunch of people you like being around.
Old Man Gloom
Who’s the mastermind behind the Old Man Gloom Facebook?
Santos, our drummer! He is doing 95% of those posts and he is now our de facto PR guy. He excels in that department and we’re all happy to give him the reigns and let him run with it because he’s doing an excellent job. I go to the page myself pretty frequently just to see what he’s been doing because it’s always really funny and it’s also seemed to rope in a lot of characters as well people who are regular participants in the chatter and that’s pretty great as well.
Just to wrap up – you’ve touched on this before but what’s next for both projects?
After this tour we go home for about a month, and then Sumac does a tour in the US of the east coast which is about two weeks long, and then after that everybody is taking a break for a while. Brian begins his tour with Russian Circles, Faith and I are expecting a child so that’s gonna be out focus for quite a while. Nick is in another band called Erosion and they’re wrapping up a record right now.
And so kinda maybe after all that stuff settles down a little bit then Mamiffer will get to work in earnest on the next record, which as I said Faith has written the majority of already. Now we’ve just gotta start thinking about arrangements and things and if possible I’m hoping Sumac can tour a little bit more on this record, maybe come back to Europe next year for a bit of a longer tour and we’re trying to arrange a plan to go back to Japan and go to Australia for the first time.
And maybe between all those things I’ll be getting to put together the pieces for the next record too. I already have a concept in mind aesthetically speaking so I just have to make some time to sit down and play guitar and try to find those ideas.
Is there anything you’d like to say to wrap up?
Something I’ve been thinking about more and more with this band in particular but really everything I’ve been involved with is being more overt in my communication of what the intention is. I think with a lot of metal music or aggressive music there’s often this perceived notion that it’s meant to be destructive or it’s nihilistic or it’s painful and I think – I should say I hope – that people can perceive that our music isn’t about that. I also feel like I want…I’m compelled to tell people that this music is very much coming from a place of love and that this is at the centre of why we do this and why I’m motivated as a musician and the idea of approaching music that way and the idea of connecting to other people through music both people that play the music as well as listen to it is really important to me. So I’ll just close with that.
Sumac’s What One Becomes and Mamiffer’s The World Unseen are out now and available via Thrill Jockey Records and SIGE Records respectively!