For the last few days I’ve been struggling to come up with a fitting introduction to this interview. I considered starting with a short review of Hands that Pluck, Caïna’s fantastic final album. I also tried to pen a quick summary of Andy’s career as Caïna. But knowing that Caïna is no more has made it impossible to do a decent job in so few words. It’s been a treat to watch Caïna grow over the last few years. Each album has outdone the last, and reached new heights of songwriting and musicianship. But Hands that Pluck has been the biggest surprise of all. If you’ve not picked it up yet, you’ve been missing out on one of the best and richest records of the year. Caïna’s never been easy listening – something which always set it apart from other post rock-influenced metal – but HTP is far and away the most challenging of Andy’s albums. It’s so full of ideas, musical and verbal, that you just want to keep exploring it, to get a better feel of the labyrinth. Each listen threw up new questions in my mind about the album and its universe, so, given Andy’s track record for doing great interviews, I had to get in touch. Bollocks to ‘the death of the author’: I needed some answers! It’s a long interview, but well worth your time. Pour some wine, sit back and enjoy.
The liner notes of Hands That Pluck state that it’s the final Caïna album. Why choose to announce the end of the project rather than leave it open-ended?
Ever since Temporary Antennae in 2008 I’ve been threatening (mostly to myself) that the next release would be the last, and I realised that I needed to really put it out there and make a commitment to ending it in order to actually stop. Each record takes so much out of me and I knew that this would have to be the last one. I think the knowledge of the end really helped with the creation of the album though, because I put every single ounce of energy I had at my disposal into it, and the best part of three years, and I genuinely believe I’ve fulfilled every ambition I had for Caïna with this album.
Good question – Caïna has taken up so much of my life, and all of my creativity, for over seven years, so not doing it is inevitably going to leave a void that I really can’t grasp yet as the album has only been out a couple of months, and the final release (a split with White Medal) isn’t even out yet, so it doesn’t seem 100% ‘over’ yet. I do have other things I’m working on, including a new black metal project ZOSKIA and my retro horror soundtrack project ‘Don’t…’ which I’m having a lot of fun with, and a couple of other things. But the key word there is ‘fun’ – I’m not really doing anything serious. Part of the reason I wanted to end Caïna is it just took up so much headspace and energy, and to replace it with another full time project immediately would render the whole ‘end’ pointless.
In an old interview with Oaken Throne, I remember you saying that you started Caïna as a way of dealing with certain troubles in your life. Is that still true on your final few releases, or has Caïna come to play some other role in your life?
Definitely the latter. Post-Mourner, Caïna stopped being primarily concerned with catharsis and became much more about genuine ‘expression’, for better or worse. I think it’s fairly evident from the stylistic changes from album to album. However, having said that obviously your mood at the time of writing/recording colours the material – I think it’s more about what each project has as its aim. Mourner was most emphatically ‘about’ expressing or processing my personal issues in a way that the subsequent releases have not been.
Hands That Pluck is your most metal record, and feels like a huge change of direction from Temporary Antennae. How did that come about?
I knew going in to HTP that it was going to be the final album from the project, and that most certainly informed the musical direction I went in. I didn’t want to make another gauzy, hazy, shoegazey record to leave as Caïna’s epitaph. I wanted to go out with a bang. Additionally, the lyrical concept (which was thought up well before the recording began) lent itself more towards aggressive sounds. But perhaps most importantly, HTP represents a period in my life where I’ve never been so full of bile and righteous anger towards the world and my place in it. To make an album which denied that would have been dishonest and, as it turns out, disingenuous, because I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out.
I read a horror story somewhere about you losing the first version of the album along with all the lyrics, and having to do it all again. Is the Hands That Pluck we’re familiar with much different from the album it would have been had the disaster not happened?
Yeah, that was a pretty horrific situation. It wasn’t finished by any means, but I had most of the lyrics and 40% of the music totally down. Hands that Pluck is completely different – there’s not one riff that was supposed to be on Concerning the Beast-Folk (as the original album was called). I decided to completely start again. CtBF was a concept album based on HG Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau, and musically was very much a continuation of Temporary Antennae, albeit slightly heavier. It was a blessing, really, seeing as HTP is an immeasurably better album than CtBF would have been.
The CD comes with a companion disc called Old Songs, New Chords. What’s the story behind that second disc? Why not give it its own release?
The disc came about from a conversation I had with Profound Lore a long time ago, where I was originally resistant to the idea of rerecording stuff, but after re-arranging some material for the last gig I played I started to warm to it. I knew I wasn’t going to play any more gigs as Caïna, so I thought it might be nice to give people who couldn’t see me live an idea of how I arrange the material. That sounds kind of prosaic, but I drastically rejig everything when I play live, so it is a genuinely different experience. As it turned out, only a couple of the tracks fall into this idea, whereas the others gave me the opportunity to explore some different genres (e.g. the country version of Permaneo Carmen from Mourner).
It was originally scheduled to be a separate release, but with it being the final Caïna album we thought it made sense to release it as part of a package, because the disc is sort of a sidelong retrospective, or a career overview seen through a distorting mirror. Also, Profound Lore found a way to sell the double album for a single price, so from a value for money point-of-view it made a lot of sense – rewarding people for buying a standard price album with another disc of material seems like a good deal to me.
The lyrics to Hands That Pluck are no easy read. I find it dizzying how they slide between a cosmic and earthly perspective, and it’s never easy to tell who the speaker is. Sometimes it seems that the plucking hands belong to some cosmic, divine force, and sometimes they seem to be man’s hands. It’s hard, at least, to avoid the impression that you believe in some guiding force behind the universe. Would you be willing to cast some light on these ‘hands that pluck’, and tell us what’s going on?
It’s a difficult question to answer because any ‘meanings’ of lyrics are going to be somewhat subjective depending on the particular context and circumstances of the reader (death of the Author and all that shite), but I can try and describe what my own intention and interpretation is.
The best way of describing the Hands that Pluck as a lyrical conceit would be to firstly draw an analogy between them and Spare’s ZOS and KIA – simultaneously cosmic and personal concepts, with confusing, often contradictory meanings. You’re absolutely right in that the Hands seem to represent polarised concepts, the man and the cosmic. But however they are signified the signifier remains the same – the Hands are avatars of destruction, they are the individual, physical hands of the murderer and simultaneously amorphous representations of the ultimate negative fate of the universe. The Hands that Pluck are anti-Will, pure inertia, anything and everything which drag down the individual human being and humanity as a whole, and they must be confronted in order to be transcended. Just as the hand-cranked electrical generator creates energy via friction, the Will must encounter and harmonise with the anti-Will in order to realise itself.
Your lyrics bring in a wide set of mythologies (Egyptian, Hebraic, Greek) and allude to concepts from Thelema (93, True Will). What cosmic truths (if any) have you found in each of these?
Thelema has had a profound impact on my life since discovering it about eight or nine years ago, and the connection I have to its precepts and concepts only deepens over time. I strongly correlate the strengthening of my connection to Thelema and the Occult more generally with what I now perceive as a near-total triumph over the demons that have haunted me for years. I don’t believe in any supernatural agencies whatsoever, but Thelema as a philosophy and Magick as a form of thought-experiment are, for want of a better word, ‘spiritually’ necessary to my existence. The concept of Hands that Pluck is broadly Thelemic, but with my own mythology attached to it. My association with occult and religious mythological principles has always been syncretic and adaptable, but HTP represents my personal pantheon in probably the clearest and most codified way I’ve ever been able to express it. The Hebraic pantheon is the enemy of the Will – it is self-denying, so it figures in the album’s mythology as a villain. The Egyptian references are fairly standard Thelemic elements, but I personally identify strongly with the figure of Horus – he is vigour, birth-from-death. He is the anchor figure for the protagonists of the album.
At several points the lyrics speak of vivisectionists and a butcher’s blood-stained hands. What part do your concerns as a vegetarian play in the world of Hands That Pluck?
The “butcher’s hands” were actually included by Rennie after we discussed the album’s themes – he recognised that the mistreatment of animals and the natural world is a key theme of the album. I don’t want to push my values on other people but I find it hard to believe that anyone could look at the way we ‘consume’ non-human animals objectively and not be disgusted, carnivore or not.
The album contains great vocal contributions from Chris Ross of Revenge, Krieg’s Imperial and (personal favourite) Rennie Resmini of Starkweather. The last two contributed lyrics, too, which feel right at home alongside your own writing. How did the writing process work on those tracks? And how did the collaboration with Rennie come about?
It was quite simple really – I recorded the music specifically ‘for’ all three artists to go with their individual strengths, then I told Rennie and Imperial what I saw the general themes of that particular being in my head when I wrote them, then let them loose to write whatever they wanted. It was actually nice to be able to relinquish some creative control in a way I didn’t think it would be. Rennie and I had been corresponding for years, and are mutual fans of each other’s work, and really all I had to do was ask him. I’m completely blown away by the quality of all three contributions, and for me those collaborations totally make the album what it is.
Zooming out a bit now, it seems that metal in 2011 is undergoing something of an identity crisis: the excitement that was felt in the mid ‘00s for bands combining metal with outside influences seems to have gone a bit sour, and traditionalist attitudes prevail. Assuming you care, do you think this is a healthy direction for metal to take? Do you think metal has much of a future?
Even though I love metal and always will, I am feeling a bit apathetic towards it as an active movement nowadays. I always liked more traditionalist material anyway so that doesn’t bother me so much, but I’ve noticed in the last couple of years that the underground seems to be far more ephemeral, cyclical and trend-orientated than it has been for a long time – this month it’s occult rock that everyone wets themselves over, then bestial black metal, then 90s style death metal, back around to occult rock again etc etc.
It’s paradoxical really, post web 2.0 there’s SO much choice out there, but people seem to be following the lead of whatever ‘scene figurehead’ they particularly identify with and it leads to the hyping up of perhaps unworthy bands. I think it’s having an adverse effect musically too – put it this way, the top 10 records that have excited me the most this year have nothing to do with metal at all. Okay, that could be changing tastes, but I don’t think so.
One of our readers (Royston Dorsa) would like to know whether you feel an affinity with the more experimental and progressive acts from Black Metal’s early days, such as Ved Buens Ende and In the Woods… Were bands like that an inspiration to you?
Not at all. I’ve actually only heard both of those bands once each actually (a live album I think for ITW a long time ago and Written in Waters at a mate’s house). I actually listen to very few genre-fusion acts – in fact my whole viewpoint towards BM as a fan is quite at odds with what I do myself. With a few exceptions, I prefer to keep my Black Metal ‘black’ for the most part.
Another question from a reader (Andrew Weiss): Some musicians who try to push the boundaries of Black Metal end up rejecting the name of the genre. Is this a necessary step forward, or a misguided backward step that reinforces the genre constraints of Black Metal that are being resisted? Is “Post-Black Metal” real and worth repeating? Is it useful to help push the boundaries of Black Metal?
The whole process of generic categorisation is a fairly irrelevant one to me. If it were up to me then I would boil each metal subgenre down to its most dominant constituent element and just call everything ‘metal,’ ‘black metal,’ or ‘death metal,’ and let that be the end of it. Ultimately you can never really keep up with every mutation or permutation of the genre, so unless you have a burning desire to dedicate your life to keeping up with the taxonomical pigeonholing of every new metal band, why bother? It all seems a bit autistic to me. The only reason I go along with calling myself Post-Black Metal is because it’s a recognised term and useful for marketing; as far as it being a genuine signifier of artistic expression goes, the genre name may as well be “Joss Ackland’s Spunky Backpack” for all the relevance it has to my intentions as an artist. In short, then, I neither embrace or reject any generic terms, because I have no interest in them to begin with. I started the project under the aegis of Black Metal, so for me it remains Black Metal.
Finally, I’m curious to know if you’ve come across this book ‘Hideous Gnosis’, a collection of essays attempting a theoretical approach to Black Metal (and, supposedly, vice versa too). As the source of the title, and someone who has studied literary/film theory, what do you make of this kind of project?
I have a copy of this. I thought in principle it was an interesting idea, but the execution was generally very ‘pseudy’, self-obfusticating and dull. I’ve read both better academic analyses of pop culture and better journalism on black metal. It’s dated undergraduate readings of Deleuze mixed with university-newspaper prurience. The only article of any interest was the one that collected a load of interviews from USBM artists, purely because it was more like a zine and therefore a bit more immediate and pure. I don’t really think that either Black Metal or academia benefit from this kind of half-arsed discourse. Neither one is really ‘ready’ for the other.
That’s all from us, thanks. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Support your local record shop and Cryptozoologist.
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HEBRAIC PANTHEON IN DUST
DISPATCHED BY THE ORDER OF THE HANDS THAT PLUCK