Members From Occultation Discuss The Band's New Album "Three & Seven"
There’s something very nasty hiding within the confines of Occultation’s debut album “Three & Seven.” Inspired by bands like Black Sabbath and King Crimson, this trio based out of NYC has a doom-inspired take on progressive rock. Comprised of vocalist/drummer V, bassist/vocalist MAL, and guitarist/organist/vocalist EMM (of Negative Plane fame), Occultation is heavy on the metaphors and occultist themes, though not in a blunt manner like Ghost and The Devil’s Blood. Occultation has done a great job of making these songs both evil to the core, and catchy to the ears. I was able to throw a few questions via e-mail to the band, and V and EMM were gracious enough to answer in detail about the recording of “Three & Seven” and recreating these songs in a live setting.
What brought you three together to form Occultation?
V: MAL and I were playing in another band together and we just spent time hanging out in the studio. She helped me record some riffs and eventually decided to become the bass player. EMM also helped me record the first Occultation song, just to help out at first, but he ended up becoming the full-time guitar player after “Dreamland In Flames’” was written.
Was there any certain sonic direction the band initially had in mind with this music?
V: When I first started writing music, I wanted to create something heavy with atmospheric vocals. Once EMM entered into the writing process, after a while, it just became natural for us to write in this style. We just write music that we think sounds good and that we would want to listen to ourselves.
Were there any particular inspiration the band drew from in formulating their core sound?
V: After discovering Black Hole, I felt extremely inspired to explore writing in this style. Black Sabbath had always been a pillar for me as a musician, and Occultation was created while we were heavily inspired by the aforementioned bands, as well as King Crimson, Death SS and Mortuary Drape.
Was there any discussions in trying to avoid this sounding retro or too much like a certain band?
V: There was barely any planning in what Occultation would sound like. The writing process for the album was organic and spontaneous, and sometimes the result of long nights of excess.
EMM: The music we listen to, for the most part, is all from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, so it’s only natural that our playing will also sound like it belongs to those periods of time. I personally cannot stand modern production with triggered drums, ultra-clean guitar sound, and invisible bass lines, so we’re completely the opposite of all of that. There’s no conscious decision however to be “retro”; rather, we’re just playing what comes easily to us and I think it works to our benefit.
The band just recently released their debut album, “Three & Seven.” In your opinion, why should a listener go out and take a chance on this album?
EMM: Self-promotion isn’t our specialty, so this is a hard question for us to answer. What I can say is that we don’t sound like any other band that’s coming out right now, nor do we sound like a carbon copy of a band from the '70s either. Also, the music actually matches the lyrical content, as opposed to a lot of bands that use occult lyrics without the music to back them up. Third, the album is catchy, yet complex, so a listener who gives this a chance will not only be able to find the album enjoyable upon the first time he or she hears it; the person will also be able to find new things upon each subsequent listen. Lastly, the album cover is amazing, so if I saw the album in a record store without knowing about the band, I would be interested.
What can a typical listener of metal and/or rock expect to hear from “Three & Seven”?
EMM: I think that each person may hear things differently depending on his or her background. I think we have many different elements in our music, so it doesn’t really fit into one genre fully, and all seven songs are quite different from one another. A person who listens to black and death metal may find some of the same atmosphere as you find in those genres when you hear songs like “Living Portrait” and “The One Who Sleeps,” whereas someone who listens to progressive rock may find something that they can relate to in songs like “Dreamland in Flames” or “Shroud of Sorrows.” For someone who just likes straight forward heavy-metal, that person may relate to the song “Three & Seven” the most, and for someone who listens to mostly doom, “Double Walker” may be the song they enjoy the most. Considering that many rock/metal fans listen to many different types of music, I think that the album should be enjoyable for eclectic listeners.
How is a typical Occultation song written, from the basic skeleton to its final version?
V: Occultation songs are mostly written on the bass. First, we come up with a series of riffs that complement each other, and then we create a demo with keyboard drums, to which we add rhythm and lead guitars. We then think of vocal melodies that would fit over the music and, lastly, we come up with lyrics to fit these melodies. It also happens that some riffs are written on the organ at first and then translated to the guitar or bass.
How was the band’s overall experience in writing and recording this album?
V: The writing experience was a lot of fun and usually took place at home, where we were free to experiment with different ideas without time restrictions. The recording of the album was a bit more tedious and stressful as we had a very limited time to get things right. We were also using analog, which didn't allow punching-in to be much of an option, and most of the songs were recorded all the way through with the exception of a few parts. However, the most difficult part of the whole experience was mixing the album and trying to maximize the atmosphere, while retaining a good balance between the instruments and vocals.
Has the studio been kind to the band? Is it an environment that fits Occultation?
EMM: Sometimes recording and mixing in the studio is a chore, especially when everything sounds amazing on the studio monitors after 10 hours of work, and then you go home and hear something completely different on the stereo the next day. Also, with a good recording, mistakes are a lot more obvious and you really need to get the best take possible, as opposed to some home demo versions where the sound isn’t good enough to notice everything. However, there’s something about the way an album is recorded at a studio that really makes everything sound complete and the studio we’ve recorded at has a very relaxed atmosphere that makes recording a rewarding experience.
What kind of lyrical themes do these seven songs on “Three & Seven” explore?
V: The lyrics are a mix of strange dreams and our own imagination, as well as the interpretation of St John’s apocalypse. Each song more or less tells a different story and we use a lot of metaphors to illustrate certain concepts; however, we like to think that people will find their own meanings within the words as well.
Which song is the best representation of “Three & Seven” as a whole?
EMM: All of the songs are important, and represent a part of our sound. One really needs to listen to the album as whole to get the full picture of what “Three & Seven” is about. Also, like I stated above, our album isn’t something that will be understood completely upon just one listen.
What kind of touring is the band looking to do in support of “Three & Seven”?
EMM: We have plans to tour the West Coast later on this year, although some details still need to be worked out. Also, our European label Invictus is working on getting us some European dates either later on this year or sometime in 2013.
How do these songs play out live, compared to the studio?
V: Live we definitely create our own atmosphere and when we have the right sound, it is a very powerful experience. We recently acquired a live drummer, which enables me to be the lead singer and helps create a more theatrical live show. We want the live presentation to match the mysterious qualities of the music as much as possible to help create a visual rendition of the songs.
Is there a noticeable difference between the atmospheric traits of the songs live versus in the studio?
V: There is always a difference between hearing music in a controlled environment such as the studio versus the way it sounds live. Although live shows may not match the album sound exactly each time because of the different sound systems in different venues, the disparities are refreshing and there is something almost magical about playing live that cannot be captured in the same way a recording is made.
What has been your favorite show to date with the band?
EMM: For me, it’s a toss-up between the show we played last October with a second guitarist and the radio show that we played recently. The show last October was amazing because we got to play two songs that were written barely a month beforehand with two guitars. On the other hand, the radio show had great sound and the atmosphere was very relaxed so it’s a tie between the two.
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
EMM: It’s a tie between Mercyful Fate circa 1983 and Black Sabbath circa 1970. I don’t think these two bands need any further explanation.
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