KHORADA's Don Anderson talks Moving On From AGALLOCH and Crafting an Epic Anti-Trump Record
The demise of a band of any persuasion can be a rough thing. Two? Well that's plain tragedy. Though as we metalheads know, sometimes you have to weather a shit storm of lows to reach epic highs.
In the wake of the end of black/folk metal titans Agalloch and post-metal rockers Giant Squid, a new outfit is set to drop one of the strongest debuts of the decade. That's no exaggeration.
Khôrada, the new project from Agalloch's Don Anderson, Jason Walton, Aesop Dekker, and former Giant Squid frontman Aaron John Gregory, will release their debut LP Salt through Prophecy Records on July 20th.
"What I liked about playing in Agalloch was I enjoyed the scope, this kind of wide-screen, cinematic approach to music, which includes things like writing long songs, layering lots of different guitar tones and just painting with a very wide pallet. I liked that kind of vastness, that sweeping landscape approach. That was always a reference point for Agalloch. I knew when Agalloch stopped I wanted to continue playing with that approach. It doesn’t sound like Agalloch, but I wanted that approach," explains Anderson in an interview with Metal Injection. "We knew that a band like Giant Squid, (Aaron John Gregory) would be familiar with those kinds of bands, if you want to call them sludge or whatever. He has a Neurosis tattoo. He was brought up on that stuff. We knew he’d be perfect and could play really heavy guitar and be into it. We knew Giant Squid sometimes could be really groovy, and groove was something Agalloch was never really interested in."
Inspired by the likes of YOB, Neurosis and Swans, Khôrada combines Gregory's signature grooves with the heavy yet precise instrumentation of Agalloch's core to serve up the best of both worlds.
"It works really well with my more geometrical approach to music," Anderson shares of the band's sound. "It definitely is from the here and now."
In exploring what went wrong with the much-loved Agalloch, Anderson shared that a gradual rift developed between frontman John Haughm and the rest of the group. Haughm wanted to ride the machine into metal stardom, while Anderson, Walton and Dekker were content to let the artistry do the talking, focusing on separate careers and growing families. That fact remains true with Khôrada.
"We have every intent on playing live and doing what touring we can do. As we learned it was also a bit of tension in Agalloch, because John was at a very different life and moment than the rest of us. He didn’t have what I would call a career outside of doing music. He could freely tour pretty regularly, and if we had all dived into Agalloch in the last five years we could have made a reasonable living off of if, but we would have had to have been on the road constantly. I always insisted that we follow the Neurosis model, where we all have day jobs. It was possible with Agalloch. When we would do a tour, we had enough of a status that we could sell out those shows, pay debts and bills and take home some money. We had kind of reached that status. I think the danger is when you’re writing music to pay your rent then that’s really the end of any sincere form of art … I feel like the Neurosis model is perfect; that everyone is sincere and we do something that matters and it’s special. Agalloch was starting to let that go. When we were touring rarely it was always special, it meant something. For me it was perfect, but I think it wasn’t ideal for John.
"It's exciting, but also incredibly daunting for the three of us – meaning me Jason and Aesop," he adds of the ability to start anew. "I absolutely give credit where it was due. John was absolutely responsible for lyrics, themes, ideas, imagery, aesthetic and the vision more or less of Agalloch, where I was just in it more or less for the music, really. That was his thing. None of us were pagan or really cared about that stuff too much. I thought it was a cool aesthetic and I was happy to be a part of it and it didn’t bother me. Now we’re starting from degree zero and we’re like, what are we going to sing about? We knew we were going to have lyrics, and if you have lyrics you have to have content. It was really strange to go from a band like Agalloch who had a really coherent and 20 year long development of an aesthetic and the look and concern of themes and images that are evolving. To have that completely taken away, it was kind of stressful."
Congregating in Portland with beers and bucket loads of creativity, the yet to be named foursome pondered who and what they wanted out of this next chance.
"We all knew we wanted to be in a band together, that was for certain. We had no name, no lyrics, no music, nothing. We sat down at the table, drank a bunch of beer and sort of talked about, what is this thing? What is it going to become? How’s it going to start?"
One thing became evident rather quickly; the current climate in the United States – politically, socially – presented a situation that was impossible to ignore for four musicians who are not content to coast for a paycheque. All four determined that Salt provided a rare opportunity to speak out in a climate where speaking out is often unpopular.
"The first thing we talked about was the Trump era, and what that means for us personally, but also for Jason and AJ, both of whom have young daughters growing up within the Trump era and how this would be very personal for them," Anderson explains. "AJ is also incredibly environmentally conscious, as we all are, but he more specifically in that field with a deep interest in the ocean and preserving ocean life. We knew the environment was big and we knew that dealing with misogyny, nationalism, and racism, those would also be issues. I knew from Giant Squid he would do this metaphorically, although I did appreciate that there were a lot of very direct lyrics referencing violence of capitalism, the North Dakota pipeline issue. These were upfront, and I liked that."
Do artists have a responsibility to delve into the political? That's up for debate – and likely a hell of a fucking subject for an article – but for Khôrada, putting pen to paper meant saying something worth standing by.
"I like to think that our record is an anti-Trump record, and I’m not afraid to say that," Anderson says emphatically. "I think it is an anti-Trump record through and through. It’s about a lot of things, but it was definitely written with Trump in mind and what that means for the country, for North America and for the world at large and particularly for the environment, for women and minorities. That was like, ok, that will be our starting point.
"I think Trump is an existential threat. I think it’s a false idea that you can somehow not be political. You’re always already a political subject. If you’re someone who gets to pretend that politics doesn’t affect you, you’re probably just a straight white dude. If it’s not necessarily going to affect you the same way it is going to affect trans lives, minorities, women, refugees and immigrants. He threatens the entire fabric of democracy, and in many clear direct ways, the world. There’s no way it doesn’t affect us as artists, because it’s infecting the environment and the way we live … It affects me as a straight white male in this moment. I feel if I’m silent then I’m complicit. It’s a great opportunity to address these issues.We didn’t want to be negative and didn’t want to be pessimists. We decided there was some relief that the world is older than we are, the mountains and oceans are older than we are and they’ll be here long after the human race disappears. If you think of time in that grand of a way then there’s something kind of zen and peaceful about it for me."