Knocking at the doorways of the earth, as the song has it, or even just the plain gesture of knocking in general, is the main theme of your poetry, the underlying metaphorical, or maybe even metaphysical context everything in it revolves around. Who is knocking, why is he knocking, and what should happen when the doors finally open?
Jimmy: We liked the idea of knocking as an analog for the fear of the unknown. This fear is incessant and has occurred all through time. It’s the sound of wood creaking in the forest, or an ominous howl. We often mythologize fear, personify it, or form it into a story. But we’re trying to tap into that which can’t be formed. An old hermit in his woodland cabin hears a rapping on his door. What does he experience? Curiosity? Terror? When he opens the door there could be nothing, but does that make it any less dreadful? There is no who, why, or what.
Were you trying to tell some imaginary story with the lyrics or were they inspired by something deeply personal?
Jimmy: This project is more a story or concept than something personal. We’re using 19th century American Spiritualism and superstition as a lens to focus on a loose concept of a family terrorized by a haunting. The Knocking tells of their initial curiosity and experimentation with the essence. The full-length will expand on this and advance the story.
Rat: The lyrics approach a single story from various angles and voices. There’s a throughline of plot, but it’s meant to be nestled inside of several advancing set pieces. Sometimes this appears as scene-setting narration, as with the track The Knocking, and other times it’s contained in a single voice, as when the haunting speaks in The Visitor. The upcoming album will continue this slant-wise approach to the narrative.
Does the convincing, emotionally charged vocal delivery have something to do with the emotional investment you have in The Knocking narrative?
Rat: To my tastes, the very best vocal performances inhabit a certain voice or voices, character or characters, or simply put ˗ a style. The emotional charge, as you call it, is part of the style’s script. Emotional investment is irrelevant aside from the time one takes from the disappearing days to make music. Of course, it’s impossible to conceive of the vocal performance in isolation. The language and takes we’ve chosen follow the rhythms and grooves of the music. When writing the lyrics for The Visitor, for instance, the word obsidian came first and forcefully, for the way the suffix fits inside the riff. There’s an element of formalism to the approach, of finding a word’s proper place within a song’s form. And as a rule, I reject all charges of seriousness ˗ or only seriousness. From its inception, metal has contained elements of irony and camp. How else can you read the images of grown men in makeup larping in the woods, or some fat fascist fuck invoking orthodox devilry without a grin? To take metal’s task too seriously is to risk invoking art’s true adversary ˗ kitsch.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word doldrum as a spell of listlessness or despondency or, alternatively, as a state of bafflement. The second definition definitely seems to be making more sense, as your music feels to be much more about capturing the feeling of wonder than the feeling of lethargy. Would you subscribe to this sentiment? What made you think that Doldrum would be the appropriate word to name the band after?
Jimmy: We all agree with your interpretation. If we can intrigue, even baffle people with our music, then that’s very fulfilling. Terrific Don picked Doldrum as a name early on, and as we explored other options, it just stuck with us. It has an obscure and resonant character that we found fitting. Another anecdote is when I told my wife the name she immediately brought up the movie The Phantom Tollbooth. It has this strange wooded place called the Doldrums where people are possessed by a sense of lethargy, and she had an immediate recollection of this fictional place. I liked the idea of the name potentially tapping into this youthful sense of mystery for some listeners.
Don: As Jimmy stated, the name has indirect meaning. It serves as both the archaic meaning of the word as well as a reference to geographic regions. In concept, I am intrigued by the phenomenon of unexplained activity as it corresponds with natural topography or magnetism. For instance, the prevalence of cryptid sightings around the Mammoth cave system in the United States or oceanic regions that have a history of peculiar events among seafarers.
Rat: And the shape of the word, the bassy roundness of the vowels, the sway and sudden drop of one syllable into the other ˗ the name Doldrum reproduces the intended qualities of our sound.
While you were writing these two demo songs, did you need to dig deep and explore the dark and dusty corners within yourselves that you didn’t particularly enjoy visiting, or was the whole experience something that filled you with the sense of empowerment?
Jimmy: For me, all creation is a balance of both dread and empowerment. I believe that when writing, I’m channeling something from both myself and a sort of other consciousness ˗ ether, being, however you would like to put it. In creation, we’re reflecting on ourselves while also processing external stimuli. The interchange of these forces can be both positive and negative. Overall though, Doldrum has been a very flexible writing experience. I think that we have a lot of freedom with this project and a lot of it has been written in a more stream-of-consciousness format than I often utilize. That feels empowering in and of itself, to just let it out without too much analysis.
The sound of the demo is immense, and the picture-perfect production only amplifies that impression. Still, it’s the playing that predominantly lays that lush sonic tapestry. Is that sound something that you figured out effortlessly or did it take some time?
Jimmy: Terrific Don is responsible for the production on this recording and he did a fantastic job for it being just an introduction. We’ve all been involved in making music in some way for 15 to 20 years, so we’re not new to it. For Rat and Don, this is their first run at their instruments ˗ vocals and drums, respectively ˗ and there’s fresh, exciting energy that shows from that. Overall, it’s taken time and Doldrum is a culmination of varied experiences between all of us.
Don: The production on the demo was meant to make a statement that the songs and performances stand on their own. We’re not relying on typical raw black metal production, which for many bands is an instrument in itself ˗ the riffs and performances become secondary to the sound. We wanted the music to be bold and clear. In other words, let the mystery within the riffs themselves create the obscure atmosphere that black metal demands. The full-length will also be produced independently by us and will embrace this concept further to produce a truly unique black metal sound that evokes an American quality of grit and clangor.
Do you think that you have your sound figured out already and should a certain band’s sound be an established or an ever-evolving category? Can you imagine yourself thinking that’s it, this is perfection, I want the band to sound this way until the end of time?
Jimmy: We don’t have it figured out. Oddly enough, when we initially conceptualized the project, we had very different intentions for it. We were going for a more traditional sound, but when Don heard the first riffs for The Knocking, he came up with the drum groove that you hear currently. It was so far from what I initially pictured, but I loved it and we decided to take this alternate path. That’s one of the great things about writing and collaboration, and if we ever say ok, we’ve got a formula, this is how it will always sound, then the project might be over, time to move on.
Don: As you’ll hear on the full-length, the sound has shifted somewhat from song to song even within the brief life cycle of the band thus far. We aren’t the types to ever intend to arrive at a formula, but instead produce songs that excite us regardless what direction the style takes. We don’t seek evolution.
Influences-wise, from the music to the vocals, there seems to be a delicate shadow of Carl-Michael Eide towering above everything that Doldrum does and is. It’s a translucent, almost transparent shadow of course, with glimpses of not only Virus and Ved Buens Ende, but Aura Noir as well. Would you say that this is a fair notion?
Jimmy: That’s absolutely a fair notion. Carl-Michael is a visionary and has been involved in some of the most forward-thinking groups from Norway. Written in Waters is at the top for all of us. It has had a dramatic effect, and for me, it became a part of my musical DNA. Vicotnik’s contribution is equally revered, as is his work in Dødheimsgard with Aldrahn. There is rarely ever an attempt to sound like those groups, but it’s just a part of us now and we are glad and honored to be compared even slightly.
Speaking of Carl-Michael and Vicotnik, what are some other artists whose music and sensibility you feel delicately shine through your own? Apart from being an outlet for your own creativity and vision, is your music at least partially a reflection of your own musical tastes and affinities?
Jimmy: There’s no doubt that all of our varied tastes coalesce into a shared vision. You mention Carl-Michael, and actually, a huge influence on us are bands that influenced him, bands like Voivod and Celtic Frost. Their unique visions changed the entire landscape. There are of course the Norwegian classics, A Blaze In The Northern Sky, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, and Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk in particular. German giants Lunar Aurora and Nagelfar are huge players. Lugubrum for their varied glimpses into the inebriated and the strange. We listen to a lot of music outside of metal as well, for me a lot of progressive rock and post-punk.
Don: I’d add to Jimmy’s response 16 Horsepower, The Jesus Lizard, and Scott Walker as artists that influence Doldrum in both their sound and their representation of the American spirit.
The way The Visitor fades out into silence with that keyboard melody, that is basically a rendition of one of the guitar lines that can be heard earlier in that same song, is truly mesmerizing. There is something about that melody that indeed feels rooted in the uncanny, to borrow your own phrase. Do you see keyboards taking more prominent role in the band’s music in the future?
Jimmy: Glad that you picked up on that! We love playing with repeated themes or motifs to not only add a storytelling element, but also connect the music across the album. Keyboards will probably remain as prominent as they currently are, simply to add some atmosphere or texture.
Speaking of The Visitor, the last few seconds of the song feature a scream similar to the death rattle, that is followed by the squeaky sound of the doors closing. Would you care to initiate a listener into the meaning of that mysterious ending sequence?
Jimmy: It’s intended to create a sense of foreboding and acts as a conclusion to the demo while also shining a light on what’s to come. There is a loose conceptual element to these songs that will be fleshed out on the full-length. Here, the characters have been removed from the safety of their homes and are being lured into the woods.
With regard to your fondness of American folklore, apparently that term is the one of many meanings. What precisely are the constitutive features of your national folklore, or at least the ones you had in mind when you said that the band’s sound was rooted in it?
Jimmy: It’s entirely based in intrigue and curiosity in America’s occasionally vivid mystic and esoteric history. As mentioned, the American Spiritualist movement with its bizarre mix of the occult and rural superstition is a guiding force here. Rural Appalachian mining folklore like the Tommyknockers, the Mothman of West Virginia, or other odd regional legends are all things that fascinate us. We wanted to write about more than just the natural elements of a place, to inject some of its bizarre histories as well. And just to be clear, this is not formed out of some sort of overt patriotism or espousing of our cultural heritage or nationalism ˗ all of which we find nauseating. It’s also a reaction to a lot of American black metal from the last couple of decades with its soft swathes of supposed atmosphere. We find it boring, but there’s a palate for it and that’s fine. We wanted to create something stranger and more uniquely American.
Rat: Put another way, we’re less interested in America than we are in Americana.
Was your sensibility and aesthetic appreciation for everything that is art related shaped more by reading or by listening? Did you spend the better part of your adolescent life reading books or listening to music, and which of the two was predominantly responsible for building your inner world and intellectual being?
Jimmy: Absolutely ˗ reading, listening, and watching equally. All three of us watch movies and read consistently outside of our appreciation for music. For me, I grew up in a very musical household and I enjoyed reading equally. In all honesty, the amount of Goosebumps that I read as a kid definitely helped form my taste for the gothic horror greats like Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and of course Lovecraft. These authors have had a definite influence on Doldrum. We all read outside of horror of course. One of us actually has a career in publishing here in the states, so he’s very involved in literature. I could write paragraphs outlining our different interests and how they find their way into Doldrum, but I’ll leave it with a quote from the great Andy Partridge: why would you want to exist on a diet of just hamburgers?
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