An Interview With Megaton Leviathan Vocalist/Guitarist Andrew James Costa
Megaton Leviathan are a band just starting to gain some momentum, thanks in small part to a recent stint touring alongside Wolves in the Throne Room. The nationwide tour saw them take their drone/doom sound to plenty of fresh ears. The band lets their music do the talking, keeping the vocals very low in the mix and out of sight for minutes at a time.
It’s all about atmosphere for the band, and nowhere is that more evident than in their debut LP “Water Wealth Hell On Earth.” Featuring the 20-minute, two-part title track and a monstrous closer clocking in at a precise 33:33, the band has a lot to say and doesn’t like to rush through their music. I had a chance to send some questions via e-mail to vocalist/guitarist Andrew James Costa to get a better idea of what Megaton Leviathan is all about.
For those unaware of the band, could you explain a little bit about yourselves?
Andrew James Costa: We’re an experimental art installation that plays occult-themed psychedelic music.
What kind of inspiration does the band draw from to get their sound?
A lot of different things. The occult, nature, books, life experiences, the psychedelic underground of the 60’s, Stooges, Can, shoegaze bands like Bailterspace, Slowdive, and Spacemen 3/Sonic Boom. Industrial bands like Chrome, Coil, and Genesis P. Noise stuff like KK Null, Noisegate. Metal like Corrupted, Neurosis, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. I personally like to meditate on what it is I’d like to create.
What did the band take away from their first demo in 2009 that helped them in future recording processes?
For me, a lot about the song writing process, and recording techniques. That demo took some time, and those songs, as simple as they are, most of them had been worked on from many different angles ‘till I got the desired result. Mostly the drum takes were pretty raw-powered, super hot. So we learned how to get proper takes and to go into a studio with a engineer for the drums when we do albums, just because of the sound the project calls for. Chris (Beug) did live sound at a venue in Olympia called the Manium. Once he joined M.L. (Megaton Leviathan), things took off at a rapid pace as far as the demos where concerned. We re-did the bass tracks with him, and he mixed the songs. By the time we got to pressing the vinyl and doing a little re-mixing, we felt we got pretty good at the end of the process.
The band released their debut album, “Water Wealth Hell On Earth,” last year. What was the band looking to get out of their first album?
The songs “Water Wealth Hell on Earth” and “Guns & LSD” got progressively slower as we continued to play them live. We wanted the album to reflect that. I also wanted to create a album that incorporated experimental noise/industrial ideas with shoegaze and the doom aspect seemed to rear its ugly head, and we embraced it. I feel as though as much as we succeeded, the endeavor was rushed.
The album is now out of print. We have plans to re-release a redux version with our studio drummer Matt Brim. We already re-tracked the drums at Avast! Studios with Randall Dunn. For those of you who caught us on tour with WITTR (Wolves in the Throne Room), those were the tracks you heard live; not a drum machine. Other than that, we didn’t have huge expectations of making album of the year, or getting signed to a corporate label. The accolades we have thus far received have exceeded what we thought we would get.
What kind of elements does the band want every song to possess?
Earth, wind, fire, and a lot of spirit and some water.
There aren’t a lot of vocals on the longer songs, but do the lyrics serve a purpose to the album as a whole?
Yes, I keep the lyrics short and to the point. I like to maintain a minimalist approach. It helps lend to the hook as well. I'm also not the best vocalist in the world, so I’m working within my limitations. I might add that Chris and I both absolutely refuse to scream. Lyrically, there’s a sort of hymn. I write love songs.
How is a typical Megaton Leviathan song written? What comes first?
There isn’t any one way. We do obliviously use technology. Sometimes it’s just tweaking around with the DAW or for most of the songs on the “Repeating Patterns Of Love” demo, I went to the basement, plugged in the Ric bass, and played the first bass lick that came to mind and went with it, with the exception of “Time Fades,” which was written on the spot in band practice.
Where did the idea for the 30-plus minute “A Slow Death In D Minor” come from?
It’s 33:33 actually. I was playing with some feedback tracks and synth drone. This is the first song Chris and I wrote together. He came in and had the idea about the string section, and composed the last half of the song. He wrote and played all of the string instruments on that outro. The concept of “A Slow Death In D Minor” was that of the Alchemical transmutation; the sacred fire and the death of self..a change, the Yoga of the Kathopanishad. The song is in fact in the key of D. However, every one is open to their interpretation, and we don’t force our ideas on our potential audience.
Do you enjoy experimenting with drone/ambient parts like the ones on “A Slow Death In D Minor”?
Oh yeah, love it. It’s the unpredictability i’m drawn to; I have no control over the outcome. I am looking forward to compiling some tracks for a synth and Noisecape-only album - possibly cassette only - as well as a split with Actuary.
Will the band consider bringing in more of the orchestral elements found at the end of “A Slow Death In D Minor?”
Yes. In fact, when we go to track the rest of the album version of “Repeating Patterns Of Love,” there will be strings on a few songs and plan on having a horn section on “I Will Meet You At The End Of Forever;” super tripped-out psychedelic horns. The next album we are working on - “Past 21 and Beyond The Arctic Cell” - should have some nice surprises.
Is it easier for the band to compose the shorter songs or the more ambitious tracks like this one and the two-part title track?
Well, you'd be surprised. Sometimes I can crank ‘em out short or long, but both can have me equally as stumped. Currently, all the songs we are writing for "Past 21 and Beyond the Arctic Cell" are 10-plus minutes and we are on it. The songs seem to unfold and the vision is clear.
Do you see the band’s new songs moving in a different direction from the ones on “Water Wealth Hell On Earth”?
I’d say they already have. Listen to our “MMIX” LP; Side A is a down tuned synth/noise-laden dirge compared to B, which is more of a slowed-down, doom-gaze pop. We wont stop there; the idea was to be ever-changing, and we felt we laid the solid ground work to do so. Same translates with live. Last time we went out on tour, we were a four-piece, and this time, we decided to go out as a duo. Now we’re talking about doing a west coast tour as a three-piece with Matt Brim, our drummer. We aren’t married to ideas, and have a lot of freedom in the project.
Is it hard to recreate the noises and layering effects on the studio tracks in a live setting?
I tote around a iMac for this reason, and plan on using a Mac mini soon. I use Ableton live to play back noises or treated synths. We had our drum tracks and rhythm guitar running live too. There is a learning curve and touring has been a great catalyst for us to work it out. I have a great level of respect for those industrial icons who did it all midi hardware back in the day.
When metal heads come out to see you guys play, what is a typical live show like from the band?
Do metal heads come to see us? Man, I don’t know. We both get in such a trance up there we don’t notice. On tour with WITTR this time was interesting. We share a lot of the same ideas, just we’re not at all black metal. We hear things like, ‘Oh, I thought you were Leviathan,’ followed by obvious signs of disappointment. We get the Om/Sleep reference a lot or Electric Wizard; they are great references and bands. I get the impression we confuse your average metal head. We don’t consider ourselves a band really, let alone a metal band.
Do you think you guys are a better as a live act or as a studio band?
Well, the more we tour, the more kinks we work out, and the more we come into becoming a better live band. As much as technology has progressed, I don’t think you can sound like the studio recording, and I think if it did, it would lose its appeal. At this point, I think we are just as good at both.
What is the craziest show you guys have played to date?
Tallahassee? That was crazy with tech difficulties and then the place literally blew up; a celling fan fell down and almost decapitate some poor kid during WITTR’s set. It was like a real-life Metalocalypse episode. Then there was a rave next door...it was weird.
Where is the one place you would love to tour?
We’re aiming for Europe, but I’d like to play Japan and New Zealand for sure.
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
Corrupted, Osaka JP. It would be epic.
Any final thoughts?
Buy our records and show up to our shows so we can make and do more, and maybe get one more pair of pants a piece. Much love to our supporters.
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