Canadian noise-doom duo Mares of Thrace blew shit up a couple years ago with their volcanic debut “The Moulting,” a cataclysmic, punishing display that sounded like nothing else in the metal world. It also was astonishing that just two people – vocalist/guitarist Théresè Lanz and drummer Stefani MacKichan – were responsible for all the raucous, and their album immediately became a favorite at Meat Mead Metal.
Now, the Mares are back with their impressive follow-up “The Pilgrimage,” a record where they keep intact the things that made “The Moulting” so damaging – baritone guitar magic, jazzy, spazzy drum work, from-the-guts growls – and manage to make them even more effective. Recorded with one of metal’s go-to producers Sanford Parker, Lanz and MacKichan made Engine Studios their personal battle ground, hammering out the 10 cuts that comprise this deadly new record.
Théresè, who soon will be moving to Chicago to begin a program focused on video game development at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy of Digital Arts and Media, took some time before she started the next step in her education, as well as Mares’ current U.S. tour, to talk to my sick ass (I literally was ill… I even had a temperature) about their sophomore album, their new label home at Sonic Unyon, and their band’s suddenly expanded profile, something to which she’s still adjusting.
“In my head, I’m still a DIY punk rocker playing on the floor of community halls for 25 kids and being really happy about it.”
Meat Mead Metal: So, the new album is called “The Pilgrimage.” Is there special meaning behind that title?
Théresè Lanz: I don’t know if you ever took English in high school or colleges, but (Geoffrey) Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” has a piece in it that was a long piece of poetry describing a pilgrimage with a bunch of individual characters. I don’t want to call this a concept record, but that piece kind of inspired it and each of the songs, and that’s why they’re named after these little fucked-up characters that live in my mind. Also, I just did an interview for the Deciblog about how I’m going back to school for video game development, and they wanted to know if any of the songs are inspired by my love of video games. And in fact, the album title also is somewhat inspired by the “Mass Effect” franchise. This one alien race in “Mass Effect,” their planet got destroyed so they live in this mobile space flotilla, and when members of their race come of age, they’re required to leave the flotilla and not come back and until they go find something of value to bring back. That trip is called the pilgrimage. I would be a total, giant liar if I said the title wasn’t somewhat inspired by that.
MMM: Well, yeah, I was going to ask if video games played any part in the album.
TL: Not overly. For the most part, I find metal to be somewhat of a corny thing as a whole, but I like to try to keep the super-cheesy shit out of it. (laughs) I like to keep those two parts of my life reasonably separate.
MMM: Metal wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t corny.
TL: Hell no!
MMM: You’re on Sonic Unyon in Canada, and while they’re starting to make an impact in the States a bit, I don’t think we have the same understanding of what an important label it is. What was it about Sonic Unyon that made you want to go there?
TL: They were not the only offer we got, but they were probably the best offer. I like to kind of keep things in the family. I know Sean Palmerston, their PR dude, and I have a hard time dealing with people from whom I don’t get a good family vibe, and I get a good family vibe from them. The terms they offered us were awesome. There were some bigger labels that made offers, but personally, I’d rather be a smaller label’s top priority than a bigger label’s bottom priority. I’ve had friends in that position, and it didn’t look like fun.
MMM: What do they mean to Canada?
TL: Anyone who’s a musician in Canada is aware of or has had dealings with them in some way, because they’re one of the largest distributors. Over the years, they’ve put out some pretty seminal Canadian records and did a lot of stuff with worldwide artists. They’ve put out stuff for Jesus Lizard and Frank Black, and I do very much like supporting Canadian companies.
MMM: Canada’s also known for the government offering assistance for artists through grants. Did you get any help in that area?
TL: Yeah, you guys don’t really have that in America, do you?
MMM: Not really. And if Rick Santorum somehow got elected (NOTE: Thank fuck, he dropped out), I fear we’d be back to the 1940s and musicians would be forced to just play trumpets in some back room.
TL: Yeah, we have a lot of federal and provincial arts funding, but it’s not free money. I mean, we have our own delicious flavors of right wingers who have certainly made comments that it’s a waste of money and if art isn’t commercially viable, no one should give a shit about it. So there’s been controversy about that. But I mean, Cursed “III” was recorded partially with government money. But the grant writing is up to (the label), and I’m sure they’ve using it to recoup, but I’m not really involved in that end of it. We’ve incidentally benefitted from it. We’ve played a few cultural events. Like, we just played one in Northern Saskatchewan at an art gallery, and I’m pretty sure federal funding flew us there and rented gear for us. It was awesome. It was a great event. And when I was playing bass for KEN mode, oh! (laughs) The Canadian government put gas in our van and iHop in my face. But trust me, it’s not free money. You have to apply for those grants the way any business would apply for a loan. And they don’t just give those to anybody.
MMM: OK, well getting back to the record, you said it’s not really a concept record.
TL: (laughs) No, I’m not that arty.
MMM: OK, well then how would you describe what the record is supposed to be?
TL: It’s not a concept album in the sense that it’s not as cohesive as I imagine a proper concept record would be. I’m too ADHD to stick to an entire concept for one record. How’s that? (laughs)
MMM: (laughs) OK, I understand. I guess let’s look at it this way: The songs seem somewhat interconnected, there’s the David/Bathsheba thing. Is that literally based on the Biblical story?
TL: No. It was a jumping-off point. It’s about a similar situation in my life. That’s what inspired that trilogy. It’s metaphorical.
MMM: Well as far as the songs sort of being character-driven, is the bulk of the album also metaphorical?
TL: The titles are specific metaphors for specific scenarios or interactions and people that I witnessed or my own little fucked-up idiosyncrasies. I’ll tell you an amusing story, though. The song “The Goat Thief,” which also inspired the cover art, that title came from six months or so ago I heard about this news item. There was this guy driving around a rural area in British Columbia and stealing goats, because apparently if you steal a goat and you can find a goat dealer, you can sell those things for $500-$750 each. Around the same time, I read a story about this Nigerian village in which they arrested a goat because they claimed that he was a sorcerer who committed armed robbery, and he used sorcery to turn himself into a goat. So in the same span of time, I read stories about a goat thief and a thief goat. Everything kind of lined up there. It’s a hard time to be a goat.
Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion! Find out what Théresè has to say about Nazis! Sanford Parker! And what one hilarious term was used to describe Mares in a recent review!
For more on the band, go here: http://www.maresofthrace.com/
To buy “The Pilgrimage,” go here: http://www.sonicunyon.com/metal/artists/mares%20of%20thrace
For more on the label, go here: http://www.sonicunyon.com/metal