ZT INTERROGATION: NECHOCHWEN OPENS ‘THE HEART OF AKAMON’…
Atmospheric metal duo Nechochwen are back with their fourth album after a few years away, so ZT decided to speak to mainman Aaron Carey/Nechochwen himself about the glorious new material.
There are many albums that claim to take the listener on a journey. Unfortunately a lot fall short of such promises or take one down a path they’d have avoided had they known what was lurking round the corner. Nechochwen’s latest release, Heart Of Akamon, fulfills every promise made and truly takes you on an adventure through history and nature.
Once again by sticking to their traditional, classical and acoustic roots, adding plenty of folk and black metal elements and combining with strong songwriting abilities, they’ve created a body of work that transports you to a West Virginian forest in the 18th and 19th centuries. Focusing on indigenous Native Americans and telling some of their stories, it’s an educational as well as enjoyable listen.
Nechochwen/Aaron Carey talks ZT through what went into the making of Heart Of Akamon, the reasons for the longest wait between their albums and how music is the best method for telling such stories.
ZT: How did the writing and recording for Heart Of Akamon go?
Nechochwen (Aaron Carey): It was a long but rewarding process. I started writing parts of ‘Traversing the Shades of Death’ before Oto was even completed. A lot of the ideas came together on my Yairi steel-string over the summer of 2012 while sitting on my porch. This is where ‘October 6th, 1813’ and ‘Škimota’ came from. Others were written on my classical guitar over the following winter. In the Spring of 2013 I wrote some music for an adaptation of a play. It was eclectic material; some of these pieces became ‘The Impending Winter’ and ‘The Serpent Tradition’. This gave us some material to start formulating the skeleton of an album. We spent one night per week for about two years writing and recording it. It gave us many challenges but I learned more from making this record than from any other musical experience.
This album took a bit longer to create than previous releases, why was that?
Yes, we’d been averaging about two years between albums but it’s been about three years since Oto. There were several factors for this. During that time I lost my mother to cancer and I went through a divorce, which led to a period of time where I wasn’t feeling particularly creative or inspired. I’d say that in general, we took more time to experiment with guitar and drum tones and we experimented with more songwriting techniques and vocal styles than in the past. Bindrune Recordings, as always, supported us in taking as much time as we needed to get it right. The biggest reason, though, is that Pohonasin and I can’t sit still for a second. While writing and recording Heart of Akamon, we were also working on releases by Infirmary, Unwilling Flesh, End, Obsequiae, Coldfells, and I believe that Pohonasin also recorded three albums in that time with Brimstone Coven. We took a little break to put a live show together for Nechochwen last year and we did a song for a Bindrune compilation and another for the official Rotting Christ tribute as well. All of this kept us having fun while taking the time to make a Nechochwen record that we are very happy with.
Would you say your sound has changed much in that time? If so, what lead to these changes?
We went back to tube amps! I’ll never record electric guitars any other way again. We went for a different guitar sound (I’m referring to the distorted guitars here) on Oto, but I prefer the guitar tone on this new record. It’s closer to the tone we had on Azimuths to the Otherworld. We went for a heavier record this time around (in the past there’s always been a majority of acoustic material on our albums) but this time around, it’s reversed. I really worked on my vocals. I wanted to try some new styles and focus on improving. Constructive criticism has been invaluable to me from trusted friends in the vocal department and it took lots of work and imagination to get to where I was satisfied with the vocals. This is the first Nechochwen album where we didn’t use keyboards at all. We didn’t realise this until we were finished but felt no need for them this time. We upgraded some instruments; I got a better flute that’s a little higher pitched (a rich sounding f# minor flute vs. the e minor, thinner sounding flute I played on Oto and Azimuths to the Otherworld) and I bought a Schecter 8-string guitar that has solved our intonation issues. The organ sounds on ‘Škimota’ are actually electric guitars played through an Electro-Harmonix Organ Machine pedal.
How do you feel your style of music helps convey the topics of nature and history it breaches?
It seems easier for me to do this with the acoustic material for when I’m trying to create nature atmospheres, like writing a song about an elm tree or a deer or the place where streams meet. I don’t like to go overboard on actual nature sounds and we use them sparingly. Too many bands have already done this route. I like to build drums and use them in our music; it makes me feel more connected to the music to make use of local wood, hides and sinew from deer I’ve hunted, or to use flutes with traditional pentatonic tunings. These are traditional ways of conveying topics of nature that we’ve chosen to use because they’ve worked for centuries. Some of the more brutal chapters of history that we’ve explored are much more suited to our heavier songs. The mix of these styles, to me, is how we can best combine songs about nature and history.
Where does the artwork for ‘Heart Of Akamon’ derive, and how important is the cover art for you?
We have a new logo on this album. I got a rough idea for the look of it and our friend Austin Lunn drew it for us and brought it to life. The cover painting is a depiction of Braddock’s Defeat, also known as The Battle of The Monongahela, that took place on July 9th, 1755. I like to imagine what it would have been like on that path where the battle took place. I try to channel these feelings into the music. This particular battle was a great Indian victory. Here’s the thing; usually Indian victories were known as massacres. Braddock’s Defeat was different because it was also a French victory so it was not portrayed as a massacre. It took place near to where we are from (this battle took place just south of Pittsburgh) and we thought, of the many depictions of the battle, this painting was the most powerful and appealing. We licensed it from the Wisconsin Historical Society for Heart of Akamon.
Do you hope to educate through your music? (You have done, I now know more about what the War of 1812 was!)
Absolutely. I started this project with two goals in mind. First, I wanted to connect to other people of the same heritage both close to home and far away that might know songs, traditions, language, etc. of the Shawnee, Lenape, Miami, and other closely related tribes who were pushed west during the Indian Removal Act of 1830. For me, I was hoping for a way to meet people of the same mixed heritage for camaraderie and to find mutual excitement in preserving heritage. My other goal was to share what I know with others through dark acoustic and experimental music. Later, we found ways to incorporate heritage into metal songs as well. My knowledge of my own ancestry and heritage has grown by a large amount since I started writing songs of this nature back in 2005. Some of this is due to research and being lucky enough to find rare books, and part of it is due to spending time with Native folks that I have learned from first-hand.
And why did you decide to pursue this through music, rather than writing a book or some other means?
Music is something that I’ve invested so much time and energy into since I was ten years old – I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in music and have built my career teaching and performing music. It was the logical medium for me to explore this subject. There are some tremendous authors, painters, and filmmakers that are masters at their craft; I couldn’t begin to match the quality of these works. Also, I learned so much about history in other parts of the world through bands like Iron Maiden and Amorphis that I thought maybe I could write music that could convey something about Woodland Indian history and culture. Maybe people would listen to it and have interest and pride in it in a unique way that a book or painting couldn’t convey.
You signed with Nordvis Produktion for European distribution before this release. How has that helped you?
We are very happy to have this opportunity! We’re honored to be part of Nordvis’ amazing roster of artists. It’s a big step forward for us and we are excited to have more people hear our music. The album won’t be out for a few more weeks so the full effect hasn’t been seen yet but we have had a huge boost in the amount of interest in Nechochwen lately, especially in Europe. Our European fans have been paying huge amounts in shipping to have our albums shipped over there and now they will be able to go to a store or have it shipped for a reasonable price. It is a great arrangement for us and for our fans.
What future plans and ambitions do you have for Nechochwen? Will there be any live dates?
We have plans to possibly do a series of 7”s over a period of time that will focus on some universally sacred things. They are things that are worth taking a deep look at and I want to take the time to write good music dedicated to earthly and celestial tpwiiwe, or thanksgivings. We also have plans for a split with a really great band. It will be a first for us and we are anxious to write and record for it!
We’re not sure about live dates. Pohonasin is busy touring with Brimstone Coven this summer but we’ve talked about getting a live band together to play the heavy material, in contrast to the acoustic set we did at the Winterblot Festival in Minneapolis last year. We’re not really a live band but we have decided that if opportunities arise that take us to really fun places and unite us with friends then we’ll see if we can make it happen.