John Haughm speaks frankly to ZT’s Geoff Birchenall on the demise of Agalloch and the rise of Pillorian.
“What I should’ve done after the initial announcement was turn my phone and computer off…”
Geoff Birchenall: First up, let’s get straight to the point. What are your thoughts on the aftermath of your decision to disband Agalloch and the seemingly endless stream of interviews and comments from both former band members – and outsiders – that have sometimes positioned you as some sort of egomaniac?
John Haughm: Well, like I said in the Billboard interview, I made a huge misstep by adding a “clarification” to the initial announcement. It was a direct response to misleading and false media reports that I kept hearing about shortly after the announcement was made. It was NOT directed at the other guys in the band! At the end of the day these incorrect reports really didn’t matter but at the time it was infuriating. What I should’ve done after the initial announcement was turn my phone and computer off and leave town. Instead, unfortunately, that is what I did after I posted the clarification. That post was made in haste without choosing the best words and I paid the price for it. I later acknowledged publicly in the Billboard interview that I was wrong to post it, Don was right to warn me not to, and I genuinely apologised for it. What more could I do? So…to read interviews by my former colleagues and hear about internet chatter perpetuated by them and their friends that still reference it, as a means to defame me, is pretty fucked up. Since the split and the Billboard interview, I have stayed away from social media other than posting on my artist page about solo gigs, I have not done any other interviews, nor have I talked any shit about them or their new band in any way, shape or form. I’ve been focused on Pillorian and have been quietly carrying on with my life. I thought the Billboard interview was perfect – nothing further needed to be said.
GB: Can you set down once and for all your stance on why things came to an end with Agalloch? Anything that you would like to get down in print…? Can you ever see a reunion / reconciliation happening?
JH: Don, Jason, and I simply had different goals. That is really what it boils down to. I was on one path and they were on another. I can’t speak for Aesop because he is usually in four bands at any given time and would tour all year if he could. He was available for whatever we agreed to do. Since the split, those guys have formed a new band and seem very happy about it. I am now in the kind of band that I’ve wanted to be in for a long time. The split has worked out favourably for both parties involved. The further Agalloch is in the past, the more I am relieved to be away from that world so I can safely say that a reunion won’t happen in my lifetime. Agalloch had its time and place, we left behind a solid legacy, and we gained a wealth of experience over the years that we can apply to our future endeavors.
GB: Do you feel angry at how a particular member of Agalloch suggested that you already had a fresh lineup for Agalloch ready to take over?
JH: I don’t really feel anything about it other that it was an ignorant, baseless assumption. I have been jamming with other people in various projects since 2007. That doesn’t mean I was plotting some massive conspiracy against my main band. I was actually angrier at what another member said in an interview recently who claimed that I made it so they couldn’t play Agalloch songs live. I never said anything of the sort and anyone who knows anything about music publishing rights would find that accusation absurd. Those guys can legally and rightfully play any Agalloch song if they want to and they know that. The same can be said about their public claim that they won’t receive royalties, which is also utter bullshit. This is something we discussed when the band dissolved and all the necessary arrangements were made with the labels to make sure royalties were individually dispersed.
GB: How important was it to have your solo project to concentrate on during the period after the Agalloch split? Did you also find any time to get away and do something totally different?
JH: My solo project has been a godsend. It has definitely been a nice distraction and escape from the shit storm over the past months. Since it is such a wholly different thing musically and conceptually, it’s almost like I would become a different person under that hat and outfit. I suddenly no longer was ‘John Haughm – Agalloch guy’ but instead I was an 1870s dystopian nomad soundtracking my own spiritual journey through the wastelands of life, you know? That project is such a great outlet for me as an artist and it garnered attention from people like Walter from the Roadburn festival, a couple west coast promoters, The Vision Bleak and Sólstafir guys, etc. so I have been able to do some great things with it just in the last year alone. I plan to continue to play gigs and make records with this project in between Pillorian’s activity.
GB: The choice of band name for your new project…was that your idea or did the name come from the rest of the band. I ask because as it comes from a word root that means ‘scorn’ it seems rather adept, given what happened?
JH: I first came in contact with the word ‘Pillorian’ back in 1995 with an obscure band called Abysmal. They released an album called The Pillorian Age and I bought the album solely based on the title and the album cover. I loved that word – the way it looked, the way it rolled off the tongue, and its meaning. I referenced it in the lyrics for ‘Dead Winter Days’ (albeit it as a noun, not an adjective) so it was always there in the backbone. We had a collective pool of band name ideas so I tossed it in as a possibility. I agree that it might seem a little too “on the nose” but I prefer to look at it as using scorn as a means of strength and inspiration; to let hatred and spite be our creative force. That was really the key reason we decided as a group to choose that name above the others. There is something resolute in stating ourselves as “a band of scorn”.
GB: Moving on, then, let’s look at Pillorian in close detail. What can you tell me about your new band in terms of style?
JH: It is difficult to describe because I can’t really compare it to any another band. Of course, you’ll hear some Agalloch in there, some later-era Arkhum, and Trevor’s forceful yet tasteful drumming reminds me at times of Ole from Dissection. However, Pillorian is its own beast. The music is harder and much darker overall than anything Agalloch did aside from maybe Faustian Echoes or Into The Painted Grey. The music is very dynamic and loaded with atmosphere. Stephen and I have the same approach to unconventional riffs and counterpart harmonies so the guitar work is consistently interesting. We are also on the same page regarding tone and production. Stephen works as an audio/studio engineer so that helps a lot.
GB: Was it important for you that your next band would be something totally different than Agalloch? Is there a sense of you wanting to test yourself and your versatility as well as explore a new direction in line with some of your other influences?
JH: Yes, of course. With Agalloch, I was the main songwriter, the sole lyricist, sole designer, it was my main creative outlet initially that evolved into a more collaborative effort years later. Pillorian, on the other hand, is a collaborative effort from the start and, although you can hear my style of songwriting and my riffs throughout, it is very much also a product of Stephen and Trevor. Each of us have really strong individual styles but it all melds together quite seamlessly.
GB: How did the band come together? Was it a case of you actively looking for a new project or did the band come looking for you?
JH: I was introduced to Stephen by Jason back in 2014 when he was hired to work for Agalloch as a crew member. He and Jason had known each other for a couple years prior and eventually we started a more traditional death metal project together. Jason left that project around the time I had met Trevor so we started jamming with him. We had pretty good chemistry but it was a totally different kind of music. Eventually, this project was put on ice earlier this year due to my solo tour and Uada’s activity picking up. Then a couple weeks after the Agalloch fiasco and after I had laid the name to rest, I was hanging out with Stephen and we talked about various musical ideas we had. I showed him some riffs in my archive and we jammed on those as well as some material he had and, by the end of the day, we had a structure to a really interesting eight minute song finished. We took that structure to Trevor a couple days later and he dove right into it. After three days we had this fantastic and unique song pretty well fleshed out – complete with drums. It was really inspiring so we kept writing. It is amazing what can be accomplished when three very inspired and driven musicians can just sit down together for two-three days every week and compose with no expectations other than to make the next song better than the last. By August, we had four-five completed songs ready so we sent a couple demos to Nico at Eisenwald and he loved it. So, yeah, the band gradually came to me and accumulated at a really uncertain time in my career. It has turned into the kind of renewal that I have been needing for a while now.
GB: Is Pillorian going to be a more traditional band in the sense that everyone will be involved in writing material?
JH: Yes, absolutely. Frankly, I am done with being the ‘main guy’ of a band. I just want to be one of the members doing my thing, contributing my efforts to the collective whole. My strengths will continue to be the same – song arrangement, lyrics, and the visual aesthetic/design but everyone in Pillorian are on the same page which makes things so much easier. We have the same goals, the chemistry is excellent, and all three of us are multi-instrumentalists so we have a mutual understanding of each instrument’s place within the structure of the overall production.
GB: I’m particularly excited about the potential that lies in the song-writing talents of both yourself and UADA’s Trevor Matthews (I know less about Stephen). Have you had long discussions about writing and the direction of the material or is it more of an organic process?
JH: It is a totally organic process. It’s very natural and we try not to consciously reference any direct musical influences.
GB: Is there going to be a philosophical theme to Pillorian? What is the thread that links all three of the members in terms of interests, outlook, and inspirations?
JH: We have this idea to make each album a cohesive concept. The first album is 95% done and we already have ideas for the second album. The themes thus far are very nihilistic, introspective, esoteric, etc. There is a mutual acrimonious attitude that each of us naturally feeds into the band. Even when referencing nature; it has to be the darkest, most unpleasant side of nature. The logo’s ragged edge is meant to resemble forged wrought iron which ties into the deeper meaning behind the band name. It can refer to a personal iron will or the physical manifestation of wrought iron either as a weapon, a building material, or a piece of art.
GB: Will you be taking control of the artwork and design for Pillorian?
JH: Yes, definitely the design, art direction, and overall visual aspect including stage design. Trevor is also an artist so he and I have already bounced off ideas in terms of symbolism and the logo. We are still using Veleda Thorsson for photography. She is an outstanding talent in her field and she knows exactly how to capture the vibe we are after.
Check out Pillorian’s facebook page at this location.