Chris Hathcock Conveys His Thoughts And Feelings Via The Reticent's Music
Six years ago, Chris Hathcock was an established drummer for a death metal band in North Carolina when he decided to leave and create his own band. The project he created in his home studio, The Reticent, reflected a more acoustic and introspective side to him. Ever since the first album, "Hymns for the Dejected," Chris has carved out a niche as a dark balladeer with his band. Now on its third album, this one-man band/vehicle for Chris' inner musings has really started to create its own following. The Reticent's Chris Hathcock joins us today to discuss his latest album "Le Temps Detruit Tout" and gives us an inner look at what music and themes have been occupying his thoughts.
Sonic: Chris, I remember you from that Wehrwolfe album "This is the Enemy." You were their death metal drummer! That album had a Coroner cover on it. What made you decide to conceive The Reticent and go for this completely different sound? You mention that you are big fan of such acts like Porcupine Tree and bands with an acoustic sound.
Chris: Indeed, I joined Wehrwolfe in late 2006 I believe and I took over for Scott Pletcher who was their great drummer on the "Godless We Stand" album. I spent a few years in various types of metal bands such as a blackened death metal band called The Torture Cell or a short lived black metal project called Requiem. I've been playing in these types of groups since I was in high school. During that time I was also studying music academically pursuing my bachelor's degree then my master's degree in music education. As a result of that study, my pallet kept expanding and I wanted to explore more musical avenues.
Simultaneously, many events in my personal life proved to be hard for me to interpret through death and black metal. I felt my musical vocabulary was getting limited and so I started writing all these - I hesitate to use the cliche term - "softer" songs actually without any intention of sharing them. I only decided to release an album after a few insistent friends demanded I do so. Oddly enough, a lot of reviewers and fans have compared my sound to Opeth, Tool, Porcupine Tree, etc. (all of which exceed my meager talent) and, though I am a fan of those bands, the initial inspiration for this diversion was Neurosis and the solo work of Steve Von Till and Terry Reid.
Sonic: We're seeing many more one man bands these days, and you are the multi-instrumentalist behind The Reticent. From your stance, what is the advantage to doing all the music yourself? Do you find your ideas coming to fruition far easier than if others are part of the composing process?
Chris: The advantage of doing the one man band thing (at least in my humble opinion) comes in the studio. As a composer, I write thinking in terms of the ensemble sound - I hear the harmony or counterpoint or bass line or nuances of the percussion in my head. It is very fulfilling to get to have that creative control and opportunity over each aspect of the song. I will say there is a high level of value to bouncing ideas off of others and refining a work to satisfy a group of musicians rather than just one. For me, this project is so personal that getting a piece to sound exactly how I want it to without having to argue my case for that reasoning is key and helps keep the music pure and honest.
Sonic: In choosing the name The Reticent, that's an interesting word. I hadn't heard it since the seventies when Time magazine used it to describe a politician on its cover. Reticence implies reluctance to speak. To you, does it mean expressing through music or introspection?
Chris: Well, you are very close to my thought process. I suppose one could think of this project as expressing things that I do not quite know how to express on an interpersonal level.
Sonic: You are now on your third album with The Reticent. This album, "Le Temps Detruit Tout," brings more acoustic music and paeans. On the track "Nihil ex Nihilio," would that happen to be Christopher Hitchens in the sound bite? I know you're a fan of this famous antitheist/scientific author.
Chris: That would indeed be Christopher Hitchens. The album is actually dedicated to his memory. He was an incredible writer and as a journalist, author, and orator I have not found anyone else that seemed to have such command of language and the art of debate. I was deeply saddened by his passing and "Nihil Ex Nihilo" is written specifically for him.
Sonic: You have incorporated many different sounds on the record, from the tribal drumming in "Patience," your own vocal layering on "With Folded Arms" and more rocking sounds on "Silence" and an acoustic intro on the song "Le Tenia" that sounds eerily like the intro to "The Last in Line." Take us through the composing part of the album and what you were feeling.
Chris: I tend to write when I am flooded with some kind of emotion. Many of the songs such as "Le Tenia" and "With Folded Arms" were written in one day without much further refinement. My mind was just focused which allowed the words and music to naturally flow out of me. Other tracks, though, may begin with a rhythmic motive such as "Patience" or begin with a melody such as "Enemy". In those cases, it is a process of the development of an idea. I try to listen to where the music is going and in some cases how I can use that anticipation to create a new vibe.
In the absence of a "band" to bounce ideas off of, I write and crudely record the tracks then listen obsessively trying to be sure that it is saying what it needs to say. I keep trying to find anything that I need to add or take away to give the song what it needs which I suppose is a process that is never actually complete - as the saying goes, "works of art are never finished, only abandoned". All music is expression and all music has direction. I don't know that I am particularly skilled at maximizing either.
I can only say that I write to express an emotion or concept and try to follow through with the ideas so that expression is complete (or as close as possible). If I am successful, listeners will get something from the music and identify with it - even if their interpretation is all together different from my original intention. If people listen to this album they may hear overtones of sorrow, resentment, reflection, loss, or even esoteric ideas such as searching for something. All of those are in the music or at the least, they were in my heart when I was writing and performing.
Sonic: You also do a cover of REM's "Losing My Religion," in which you pretty much sound like Michael Stipe spot on. You like doing covers, like that song "Wings for Marie" from Tool which I don't believe ever made it onto an album.
Chris: Thank you very much for the kind words, though I'm only half the vocalist Stipe is/was. I enjoy doing covers to an extent. Doing a cover as a part of the live set has always been a way to rope in folks that may be unfamiliar with your band yet when they hear something they recognize they may begin to take note of you. And of course for the performer it is one of those adolescent fantasies coming to life - getting to play a song that has meant a lot to you. However, when it comes to recording them, I'm of the school of thought that one ought to do something interesting with the work.
And that, of course, is a fine line to walk. Veer too close to the original and it becomes merely a knockoff; stray too far away and the piece becomes unrecognizable. My cover of "Wings for Marie" by Tool is something I imagine I'll only do live. The original is so good that I don't think I could do anything with it in the studio but pale in comparison. I have done a solo acoustic version of that for a few years (there's a video of my performance of it on youtube that I absolutely despise) but I don't imagine that will be on an album. Then again, I've eaten my words before.
Sonic: I have to ask, what is the significance of the mathematical formula on the cover of "Le Temps Detruit Tout?" It looks a bit like the formula for a hyperbolic paraboloid.
Chris: The equation on the cover I have sort of adopted for The Reticent. It is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. A very very oversimplified version states that I can know where I am or the momentum with which I am traveling but I can not know both simultaneously. The relevance is that through much of our lives we can know only so much. Our inability to focus on more than one thing at a time. And take that any way you'd like. I just feel there are philosophical and poetic applications of the principle when we examine ourselves.
Sonic: Your former bandmate Art Taylor of Wehrwolfe did some guest soloing on the new album. Walk us though what the recording process was like. Does he get into acoustic metal like yourself?
Chris: Oh working with Art is always a humbling experience. He showed up at the studio, got out his guitar, they qeued up the solo section, and 10 minutes later he was packing up and said, "Alright man, see you later." Amazing. Art has an eclectic taste though I don't know that he gets into this acoustic or progressive stuff to the degree that I do. But we both share a love of Buckethead and the work of Ron Jarzombek.
Sonic: You go for a lot of emotion in the tracks you do, but like to include all sorts of aural elements. For the last album, "Amor Mortem Mei Erit," the title track was filled with a barrage of shouted, conflicted voices. In this instance, was it to convey dissonance? That title stands for love will be the death of me in Latin, I think.
Chris: The title track off of "Amor Mortem..." was actually one of my favorites on there. It is all the lyrics from the album recited simultaneously in different tones of voice. It was meant to convey that vortex of emotion that I was in when I recorded it, so conveying a sense of dissonance is an apt description. I hope to do some other explorations of sound like that on future releases.
Sonic: The titles you have given all three of your albums have an almost gothic pessimism to them. I suppose we all can relate to melancholic themes better that euphoric ones as they are more real. Does time really destroy all, and are you more creative when you feel dejected?
Chris: Yes, I suppose my catalogue does appear to be rather bleak. Though with "Le Temps Detruit Tout", I wouldn't say that it is exclusively pessimistic - or at least it was not my intention. Like the idea of entropy, time does destroy everything. But is that always a negative thing? Though my life will end, your life will end, the sun will explode, etc., consequently time will also eradicate pain and suffering, tyranny, ignorance, etc. For me, this album is a look at life from a more trascendental state - comprehending the impermanence of all things.
I would say we are all more creative when we feel dejected. While in the grip of pain, we are thinking very clearly and seeking out means to rid ourselves of such suffering. Necessity, need, desperation is the fuel of creativity. If you feel wonderful, do you have a NEED to find a means to express that or simply a desire? Conversely, when you feel dejected (as it were), the emotion will need to be confronted, felt, dealt with in order to be free of it.
Sonic: You mentioned a while back that you had put together a live band, and have already announced live dates on your band page. Is it still Juston Green, Chris Mullins and Chris Barker? How do you feel when others interpret music that you have composed?
Chris: No. Juston is the bassist for a band called Skinkage now. Chris Mullins is preparing to be the next genius of the scientific world. And Chris Barker has a solo career of his own though I continue to hope to get to work with him in another project soon. My live line-up at this time consists of Cliff Stankiewicz, Rob Van Ham, and Tre Norris - all three exemplary musicians that I am fortunate to work with. It is an interesting experience to hear others interpret the music that I so meticulously composed. It is a bit jarring to let go of that feeling of "No, no, I do the fill THIS way." But I am fortunate in that everyone in the band believes in the vision and concept behind it, and they have added a lot to The Reticent.
Sonic: When you make an official video for the album, what would be the concept of it that comes to your mind?
Chris: Well that would be dependent on the song of course but I am hoping to do a video for "Silence". I have never really enjoyed videos where you see the band in the warehouse, playing for no one, but looking super intense with an exquisite amount of lighting; or the live footage compilation video; or the playing in the (fill in outdoor setting). Don't get me wrong, it works but I have always loved videos that either had a narrative or presented me with just interesting imagery. When I make a video, I want it to capture a feeling or several and I do not want to be in it at all. The last thing people want to see in a video is my ugly mug lip synching and trying to act like I'm totally in the moment. That works for many bands but just not for me.
Sonic: Recently you made the news for your take on the bill in North Carolina that defines what makes a valid marriage union. Do you feel that some of the people in power in that state are more repressive that in other areas of the U.S.?
Chris: You know, I didn't expect that my comments on the Amendment One decision would yield any notice. But I don't know if repressive is the word. I'm not sure what it is. The gay marriage question is one of those red herrings that gets tossed up every now and then to distract us from the real and difficult questions. It will not affect one of these people that are so against it one way or the other if gays are permitted to marry, let's be honest. It neither picks their pocket nor breaks their leg (to paraphrase Jefferson).
And should they believe that God despises it, then aren't all those people in for an infinity of torment according to that view? Isn't that enough? The problem with all of these people that stand so staunchly against it is that they never answer a very vital question: what is the horrible consequence that will come about if gays are allowed to marry? How does that invalidate any one else's marriage? I thought people got married because of a deep and abiding love for someone else. The sad part of the issue is people of influence in the state galvanizing people using religion and the bible which just bothers me.
That's not an argument. It isn't an explanation. I don't care if you believe in that book or not, I am simply saying it is not an argument. That same book of the bible refers to eating shellfish as an abomination too, so why are there no picket signs outside of Red Lobster? But regardless, this is an issue that politicians and those with influence know will get lots of people mad. It is divisive and you can ride these issues without having to answer the really hard questions that do not have clear and easy answers such as debt, economics, globalization, etc.
Sonic: You seem to like a bit more challenge in the things that you enjoy. What are some subject matters that have been on your mind lately - political, literary or otherwise?
Chris: I consider myself a secondary student of philosophy and so something that calls anything into question or challenges my way of thinking is very exciting to me. My love of debate nearly rivals my love of music. For instance, I believe that the way we progress intellectually and culturally is through that process of presenting ideas and evidence for them and having them relentlessly scrutinized. Sharpening our reasoning skills until they are razored scimitars.
The older I get the more I grow concerned at the level of apathy around me and further the fact that people worry about trivial things. Popular culture is obsessed with laughably unimportant things from American Idol to the latest youtube video. Even the realm of underground metal is not innoculated, how many debates have you heard with the kind of venom and fervor reserved for war over what is "true" or not? Art has become a social identity (and perhaps that has always been true) rather than expression. And in all of these trivial discussions, people rarely actually debate.
People never present an argument supported by evidence and rationally explain their position. If we can not reason, what becomes of our discourse? Are we all to be so base and simple? All of our problems seem to be traced back to this idea in my opinion. Think about any major issue, often what stands as an obstacle to it is many people (whether the populous or those in power) and their obstinate refusal to calmly and clearly reason. I suppose as is evident, I could write endlessly about the different subjects on my mind of late.
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