One of our favorite albums from 2015 was Empress/Abscess, the debut full-length (and second release overall) from Chicago’s Immortal Bird, so we were pretty stoked when we found out that they’re going to be at the 5th Quarter Lounge on June 7th, along with Seattle grinders Theories (which you can get tickets for here). We were even more excited when vocalist/occasional drummer Rae Amitay agreed to do an email interview with us ahead of the show.
Indy Metal Shows: So Immortal Bird isn’t everybody’s only band, right? Rae, I think I first became aware of you when you were with Mares of Thrace, and I just recently saw John Picillo (bass) and Without Waves open for Intronaut at Reggie’s. How did the band come together, and how do you balance being in Immortal Bird with your other projects?
Rae Amitay: Right! All of us are involved with other bands at the moment. I left Mares of Thrace a long time ago, but since then I’ve done some drummer-for-hire studio and touring work with Castle (Prosthetic) and Eight Bells (Battleground). I’ve also been the drummer for Thrawsunblat since 2012, which is comprised of the remaining members of Woods of Ypres (Earache)– We have a new album coming out next month on Broken Limbs Recordings, and I’m super stoked for it.
John is in Without Waves, like you said, and our new drummer Matt Korajczyk plays in a band called Air Raid. They’re thrashy/death with a lot of other influences thrown in, and it was hearing him in that band that made us totally confident in his ability to handle all of our silly blast beats. Our guitarist Nate Madden plays in a killer technical death metal band called Roman Ring. They aren’t just noodly note-worship though, it’s super tasteful, evil-sounding stuff. Ultimately I think that everyone’s other projects really lend themselves to Immortal Bird both in terms of technical ability as well as the level of experience playing difficult music prior to (and during) everyone’s involvement in IB.
IMS: One of the things that really strikes me about Empress/Abscess is that stylistically it’s hard to pin down. I mean, broadly it has a kind of ‘black-ish’ vibe, but there’s so much more going on than that: there are moments of dissonance that remind me of Gorguts or Pyrrhon, and that main riff to “The Sycophant” is almost bouncy post-punk. I’m curious as to what your songwriting process is like. Does everyone write riffs separately and then you piece them together? Do you all get in a room and jam songs out that way? How deliberate are the stylistic changes, both within songs and from song to song?
RA: Well, until this year, our songwriting process was pretty much comprised of myself and Evan Berry (co-writer and guitarist on Akrasia and Empress/Abscess) getting together and fleshing out ideas. I’d say I came up with more of the themes/riffs, but that Evan played a massive role in the arranging of the material. It was a pretty even split in terms of collaboration. However, given that his main focus has always been his folk metal band Wilderun and he hasn’t played live with us in almost a year, we mutually concluded that things will be different moving forward. Nate and I will likely be working more closely together on the new Immortal Bird material, and I’ve been compiling riffs and song ideas (which I write primarily on bass, but sometimes piano or guitar). Evan is still a crucial part of what we’re doing, but the band has changed now that our lineup is solidified, and I think the new music will reflect that. Before, it was more like Evan and I coming up with everything, and then the drums/bass would follow along a certain “template”. On our next record, I want everyone to work together. I want to sit in a room for hours and work on shit, as a team. I think that’s what I’ve always wanted for this band, so I’m excited to see what we come up with.
As for the stylistic changes, they aren’t deliberate so much as they’re a reflection of how eclectic our listening tastes can be. We never said, “let’s be a black metal band” — There’s blasts and stuff, but we also have piano interludes and creepy atmospheric stuff working alongside the more classic death/black/grind aesthetic. We aren’t wedded to a particular genre, but I can safely say that our music is never going to be “upbeat” or light-hearted. We’re angry, but I like to believe that the aggression is focused in an effective way.
RA: I never envisioned myself as the live drummer for this band, as much as I love to play. I write all of the lyrics, so the idea of someone else delivering them always seemed foreign and potentially problematic. I knew I’d be doing vocals for our performances, but finding the right drummer is always a challenge. It wasn’t a difficult transition though, as the people we’ve had playing with us have possessed technical ability that exceeds my own, and have done an excellent job. I do feel a little exposed sometimes, without an instrument. I don’t even use a mic stand, so it’s really just me up there yelling my head off. I don’t feel lost, though. Screaming, singing, whatever you want to call it, is cathartic for me, and I love “fronting” Immortal Bird, despite being tired of the “chick singer” label/stigma that tends to get thrown at me (and many other women in my position).
RA: Thanks for that observation, that’s a really great way of looking at it. I was definitely drawn to the artist’s use of delicate intricacy intermingling with the grotesque imagery. She’s a Mexican artist who goes by the name Kikyz1313, and she has done both of our album covers (and we plan to work with her for our third release as well). Both pieces were pre-existing works that we felt beautifully embodied the content of our music, so we were very lucky she agreed to license them for our use. I have a few pieces of hers in mind for our next album, but I’m also entertaining the idea of commissioning her to create something entirely new for us.
IMS: So what’s next after the run with Theories ends?
RA: Right after our run with Theories wraps, we’re hitting the West coast with our friends InAeona. They’re incredibly different from us, and from Theories, so it’ll be an awesome juxtaposition. We’re really looking forward to it. After that, we’ll be the Chicago support for Withered and Inter Arma when they come through in July. Once that’s finished, we’ll be writing a bunch for the remainder of the year, but we do have a few small touring plans for September/October.