There are positive and negative aspects of putting together members of two prominent bands and trying to carve a new legacy. There is a built-in fanbase from each group that’ll be there right off the bat to hear what you’ve put together, but there also are unreasonable expectations that will be plastered to the music no matter how good it is.
Khôrada comprises members of the fallen Agalloch and the on-hiatus Giant Squid, two amazing, forward-thinking bands that put out some of the best music of the past decade. When this band’s debut album “Salt” landed in our laps July 20, we were instantly blown away by this seven-track, 55-minute adventure. This record is impossible to classify, and while you can hear elements of the members’ previous groups, this animal was altogether new. Songs such as “Seasons of Salt,” the explosive and emotional “Glacial Gold,” and mammoth closer “Ossify” are amazing building blocks for this record and this band that the four men involved here— guitarist/vocalist Aaron John Gregory, guitarist Don Anderson, bassist Jason Walton, drummer Aesop Dekker—put out into a volcanic metal world. This made for one of the year’s most inventive and progressive debut albums, one that continues to compel to this day. Gregory was kind enough to take time to answer some questions about the album, the creation process, and the future of Khôrada. Many thanks to him, and all power to the rest of the band for creating something we’ll be excited to follow into their promising future.
MEAT MEAD METAL: We have named “Salt” as one of our top five metal records of the year. It’s quite a journey from putting one huge band to bed, putting another on hold, and creating this incredible album. What can you tell us about the creation of these songs?
AARON JOHN GREGORY: Thank you for that! It’s always a great honor to receive that type of recognition, especially as a brand-new band. The songs came about by a process that was very foreign to me, but natural to the other guys. We essentially did 95% of the album by trading riffs via email. Half the time I’d get parts from Don, write new riffs on top to complement them and flesh out some more to build a structure out, record it at home, and then send it back. The other half was the opposite process. There were times where we both offered songs that were more completely structured, but tracks like “Seasons of Salt” and “Wave State” were the first two songs written by us and were the perfect example of this long distance back-and-forth, cut-and-paste process.
That can be hard because neither of us are in the same room together, working off each other’s energy or spontaneity. When working alone, you can get very microscopic, and things can become precious because you spend so much time working it out with no one having an influence or say. Then you send that material out to the band and hope to God they all like what you just labored over. Luckily for the most part it worked great and we all truly loved most of what each other was bringing to the table. Though, Jason admitted to me recently that when he first heard some of the very groove-oriented, kind of swung stoner riffs I’d often write against Don’s parts, he’d kind of panic because it was so unlike what they were used to doing in Agalloch! Shit would grow on him soon enough, eventually really clicking in, and he’d grow to truly love it. I get a kick out of hearing those kind of stories. “Oh shit, what have we done?” Haha!
Once the structures were in place, I wrote the lyrics and assigned the song titles accordingly. That’s when the tracks suddenly come alive with an emotional weight that wasn’t there in the demoing process. It’s a significant change when you stop calling an eight-and-a-half-minute mountain of riffs “Song 4,” and instead name it forever on as “Glacial Gold.” It’s a very birth like moment in the creation process.
MMM: While the entire band comes from two very notable other groups in Agalloch and Giant Squid, Khôrada’s sound is nothing like those two entities. Was it a conscious decision to veer away from people expecting the music to sound just like those bands?
AJG: Not to veer away from those people, but to veer away from the definitive sounds of the bands before; yes, of course. If that meant losing those people with unrealistic or unfounded expectations, then that is what it is. It would have been pretty lame of us as artists to pay lip service to the fans of the prior bands when we had this rare opportunity to reinvent and try something new. So consciously, yes, we very much tried to avoid the sonic tropes of our prior bands.
But as far as figuring out what our new sound was; that was very unconscious. And I think that’s why the record is brutally unique in its sound, but very natural feeling and unforced. The sounds manifested themselves naturally, and we all allowed that to happen as freely as our control freak brains would allow it. Because at the end of the day, we’ve all done this for a long time and had varying successes in doing so, and so it can be hard not to just grab the song and form it the way you’ve always known how to do. Instead, these sounds and ideas we were creating were very new for all of us. I think that’s why the end result has been so ultimately enjoyable for us personally, but very divisive for the fans of Agalloch, and probably some Giant Squid fans too.
Repeat after me… you can’t please everyone.
MMM: The band recently played its first show. Talk about the experience, finally being able to put everything together live, and is it something we can expect more of in the future?
AJG: We always intended to be a live band as much as possible. We all live to perform as much as we do to record. And these songs translated wonderfully; powerful, raw, and emotional. We’ve gotten to know the songs so well that even at our first show they just came out of us like we had been playing for a long time. The crowd erupted, heads were banging, and people were singing along, so all was right in the world. We’re trying to book a couple weeks in Europe in September 2019, and some East and West Coast shows beforehand. We’ll play as much as our very busy lives allow us to.
MMM: The record, especially lyrically, was written at a time of great chaos, especially here in America, as we watch societal and environmental issues erode. What were you trying to face lyrically regarding these issues, and what do you hope listeners take away from the record?
AJG: I grew up with very socially conscious music; punk bands like the Subhumans, Citizen Fish, Conflict, Minor Threat, Bad Religion. Above and beyond anything else, I’m a punk. But I never went that direction lyrically with Giant Squid. Even Squid songs that were environmentally themed were so soaked in metaphor to enable them to have multiple meanings. I saw Khôrada as a chance to lyrically go back to my roots and address the events that are literally terrifying me. I felt it would be irresponsible to not do so. There is so much chaos and anger in our faces everyday—blatant disregard for our environment as well as human life in general—that what better things to address and to rage against in the lyrics of heavy music than all of that?
I hope listeners read the lyrics and process the message; interpret them in a way that relates to their own lives and fears. Then understand that we’re not all alone in our fears of the future to come and that if we talk about it, and act upon it, we can still make some positive change. If we help support each other, whether it’s family, friends, or your next-door neighbor, we can get through the coming days and years all that much easier. But the songs are also a warning that some real worldly suffering is coming and unavoidable. My daughters will be growing up in a much different world with a far different perspective on everyday reality as my bandmates and I know today.
MMM: “Glacial Gold” is the centerpoint in the record, and it’s the track I like most. Talk about what that song means to all of you, and what you hope the emotional resolution is from its creation.
AJG: I think this song is a final remembrance and metaphoric reflection on some heavy emotional hardships I faced in my mid to late 20s, the worst being my 47-year-old father dying in a motorcycle accident in 2003 when I was 25. This was very quickly followed by a divorce, betrayal, losing friends to drugs and mental illness, and losing home after home to different circumstances all relating to these prior mentioned events. It culminated in Giant Squid disintegrating almost completely before I managed to rebuild it in a different city, with almost all new people, but it didn’t stop our record label from dumping us. Truly some of the most memorable and intense moments of my young adult life.
All of these things were followed by great grieving, sorrow, confusion, and personal upheaval, but were also followed by events of great positivity that couldn’t possibly have happened if those tragedies didn’t take place. The concept of finding good in even the worst personal tragedies is something of a morbid fascination for me, especially because the metaphoric “gold” I found after these events I personally took full advantage of, building upon them, and am now ultimately living the life of my dreams in so many ways because I recognized those small glimmers of hope as lifelines that led to a much brighter future.
In a way, “Glacial Gold” also reflects this concept of finding good after tragedy in an environmental state. There will be glorious natural beauty, biological rebirth, and an epic new era of life once mankind has been drastically reduced or taken out of the picture completely for a while. As much as the end of the world scares me, especially as a father, I find a lot of comfort in knowing the earth always rebounds bigger and wilder than ever.
MMM: “Augustus” is one that seems to address the bond of family, be that on the home front, in a band setting, and among friends. It’s a very emotional song, one most metal bands might not attempt. Has that track gained even more meaning now months after the record was released?
AJG: It’s certainly a very personal song, one that most “metal” bands wouldn’t dare put on their records. It’s a song about the two miscarriages Jackie (Perez Gratz, his wife) and I experienced while trying to have our second child. I can’t explain the kind of sorrow and pain one feels when losing an unborn child. And yet it’s also something that is so rarely talked about, especially not openly. And because of that our society doesn’t appreciate or respect the suffering parents go through when it happens, the trauma on the women who physically experience it as much as emotionally. You’ll be expected to go to work the next day or next week or whatever, and just snap back into the daily grind. Millions of people from all walks of life experience this brutally heartbreaking loss. So, I hope the song serves as a small degree of catharsis and mutual understanding for people that have experienced this same situation. No other real metaphoric reasoning for it. But if you find some other parallels in its meaning, all the better. A good song should always do that.
MMM: What are the future plans for the band? Will Khôrada be a regular recording project, or is it something that will have to fit around other things (family, other projects)?
AJG: It will always have to fit around other things. Family and careers come first. Aesop, Jason, and I are fathers, and Don is a college professor, so we have a lot of important things keeping us close to home. Plus, we all have other bands. But it’s understood by all of us that this is the “main” band that we dedicate our time to. So, we’ll write, record, and tour as much as possible. We’re already writing songs for the new record and are very excited for what’s to come. Feels like we’re just getting started on a whole new, long career.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/khorada
To buy the album, go here: https://prophecy.lnk.to/khorada-salt
For more on the label, go here: https://en.prophecy.de/