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An Interview With Steve Janiak of Apostle of Solitude

Confession: I may be at least slightly guilty of taking Apostle of Solitude for granted. I mean, consider how integral Apostle has been to the Indianapolis doom scene for the last decade, and not just as musicians. Some combination of guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown,  guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak, drummer Corey Lee, and bassist Mike Naish (or all of them) are generally in the crowd at almost every notable stoner or doom show that comes through town. It’s pretty easy to forget that they aren’t just ours.

Damn good thing then that every four years or so they drop a new album to remind everyone that they’re one of the best doom bands on the planet, and that Indy is pretty fucking lucky that they call the Circle City home. The latest of those albums, From Gold to Ash, just might be the band’s strongest effort yet. It’s easily their most emotive, and it’s going to cause some major waves in the doom world when it drops on Cruz Del Sur on February 23. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to chat with Steve Janiak about From Gold to Ash, the band’s future plans, and the Internet’s most beloved cat.

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Indy Metal Vault: Hey, man – it’s good to have a chance to talk again. I was looking back to find the last time I interviewed you it was July of 2016, right before Devil to Pay’s A Bend Through Space and Time came out. So what have you been up to over the last 18 months? I’m mostly kidding – I know DtP did a west coast swing to promote Bend, and that Apostle trekked over to Europe for some dates, including a fest or two. Is there anything that stands out as a highlight from the last year and a half?

Steve Janiak: Both of those tours were amazing, actually. Apostle finally getting on the ground in Europe, playing Doom Over Vienna and Hammer of Doom were pretty epic, as well as all the killer bands we played with, and the new friends we met along the way. Although I did come down with some kind of flu about halfway through, it still was worth every minute. The DTP trip was equally fantastic, great shows, great bands, great times. We even squeezed in a stop to see the Redwood forest.

IMV: Okay, so let’s talk about From Gold to Ash. First of all, the album is amazing. I’ve given it quite a few listens since the promo landed in my inbox, and it’s one of those albums that sounds just as great blasting out of my car speakers as it does on headphones – it’s got the massive riffs that fans expect from Apostle, but there seems to be a few more layers to the music this time around as well. Was there anything different about the songwriting process this time around? I know you’ve added Mike Naish (also of Astral Mass and Shroud of Vulture) on bass since Of Woe and Wounds – did that affect the way you approached the album at all? That dude is a fucking beast on the bass, and seems like an absolute perfect fit in the band.

SJ: First of all, many thanks for the kind words. We are grateful that people are digging the new record. I think the songwriting was more fluid this time around. Some of the ideas were older and Chuck had concrete ideas laid out, we just had to find the right arrangements and extras to compliment them. Other songs were a bit more nebulous and allowed for a healthy back and forth with plenty of experimentation, like “My Heart is Leaving Here.” We had two breakdowns in the first iteration, so we ended up making one of them the intro. I wrote some vocal harmonies that ended up as dual guitar medley. We just allowed the ideas to flow and somehow it all seemed to work.

I’m not sure that we approached the album any differently with Mike onboard, but he is a major player and righteous dude who knows his way around a fretboard.

IMV: Speaking of the riffs on From Gold to Ash…accurate or not, Apostle of Solitude have generally been thought of as doom traditionalists – very much a part of that Black Sabbath/St. Vitus/The Obsessed lineage. I feel like the band started stepping outside of that a bit on Of Woe and Wounds, though, and started incorporating some much heavier riffs as well, like that neck-wrecker of a riff in the coda of “Blackest of Times.” I’m hearing a bit more of that on From Gold to Ash as well. There are a couple of riffs in “Overlord,” for example, that have the same sludgy feel of earlier Mastodon, and Chris remarked that some of the slower songs have almost a My Dying Bride sound about them. Has there been a deliberate attempt to expand the band’s sonic palate over the last couple of records, or has it just kind of happened?

SJ: I can’t speak for the other guys, but personally I feel like it just kind of happened that way. There are a lot of influences going on in our collective subconscious, and we gravitate to the ideas that resonate the most. There’s a definite idea of what we should sound like as a band, but I’m not 100% sure I could describe it adequately in words. Basically, I couldn’t stand outside the band dynamic and knowingly say “this is a My Dying Bride feel.” To me, it all just sounds like Apostle.

IMV: I feel like the biggest difference between From Gold to Ash and the earlier Apostle records is Chuck’s vocals. He’s always been good at conveying the emotional depth of the lyrics, but I don’t think he’s ever sounded stronger—or more like a miserable bastard—than he does on this record. It sounds like there was a bigger emphasis on the vocals in general this time around, with some slightly more complex melodies and the layering of the vocal tracks throughout (which was a brilliant move). Were the vocals a particular focus this time around? And if so, why?

SJ: Chuck really does sound amazing and emotive on this record. As far as vocals, I like to think that is one of the things I was able to bring to the table when I joined Apostle – working with Chuck on melodies, adding harmonies and really making something special. On the last record I didn’t do quite as many dual vocal parts. This time, I told the guys I was going to write as many as possible and we could lose whatever wasn’t working once we got in the studio. But singing so much together, to my ears, adds a lot of depth to the songs. It’s funny, sometimes the reviewers will talk about the amazing harmonies, but they’re unaware that there is another person singing them. Eventually I think our dual vocals will be the one thing that sets us apart from most bands playing metal.

IMV: Speaking of the vocals, as much as I’m digging From Gold to Ash, if there’s one thing that disappoints me very slightly about the record it’s that you don’t take a lead vocal like you did on Of Woe and Wounds with “Lamentations of a Broken Man.” As we’ve talked about previously, though, I’ve been a fan of your voice since the early 90s and the Neurotic Box days, so I might be a bit biased here compared to the average listener. Still, I’m a bit curious as to why. Did you not have any songs that fit with the direction of the album?

SJ: Thanks. On this record there are only seven songs, two of which are instrumental. So there was never a push for me to have a song to sing lead. I just ended up singing harmonies on almost every bit of the remaining five songs. Although I do take the lead vocal around the 3:30 mark in ‘My Heart is Leaving Here’ until the end of the song. On both ‘Heart’ and ‘Lamentations,’ I had come up with vocal melodies early on, probably before Chuck had any solid ideas for them, so it just ended up that way naturally.

IMV: The other thing that struck me about From Gold to Ash is that it’s considerably briefer than any previous Apostle full-length. At a little over 43 minutes, it’s nearly 15 minutes shorter than Of Woe and Wounds. Were you trying to write a shorter record this time out? Unlike any of the others, fits on a single LP, right?

SJ: Yes, with our songs being longer than average, we were consciously trying to fit everything on one record. It’s weird, it’s a solid length for a record but it feels shorter because of the number of songs.

IMV: So you once again worked with Mike Bridavsky at Russian Recording in Bloomington for From Gold to Ash. This is the third album Apostle has recorded with Bridavsky, and if I’m not mistaken Devil to Pay has worked with him as well. Aside from geographic proximity, what keeps you heading back to Russian Recording? He certainly does a hell of job recording the band. Corey’s drums in particular sound really crisp and fantastic this time around.

SJ: From Gold to Ash is actually the fourth Apostle album recorded with Mike Bridavsky. I think Mike is a fantastic engineer and supremely talented at what he does. Not only is he a sweet person but he’s also easy to work with, has a great set of ears and a wicked sense of humor. He uses vintage mics and preamps and captures the sound so perfectly, on top of his ability to mix like a pro.

IMV: From Gold to Ash will be Apostle’s second release with Italian label Cruz Del Sur. How did Apostle end up hooking up with them? And I can’t help but notice that there’s another Indianapolis-based band, Sacred Leather, is releasing their debut album on Cruz Del Sur on February 23 as well. That’s a heck of a coincidence…

SJ: Yeah, that was pretty interesting to me too. We had hoped to do a dual album release show, but they were unable to play. Maybe Indianapolis is the new epicenter of metal? As for Cruz Del Sur, one of our good friends put in a kind word with Enrico to give us a listen and it all worked out.

IMV: What are your plans after From Gold to Ash drops? Touring? European festivals? Also: will the album eventually see release on cassette like Of Woe and Wounds?

SJ: We are definitely doing cassettes again. I am a big fan of nostalgic, outdated formats. As far as touring, we are looking at a run in the summer across the USA and then looking to get back to Europe in the fall.

IMV: Anybody who follows you on social media knows that you’re a major cat guy. What might not be as well known is that Mike Bridavsky is Lil Bub’s human. I’ll be stunned if you haven’t at some point tried to get Lil Bub to appear on one of the album’s you’ve done at Russian Recordings. Why hasn’t it come together yet? Since she has over 3 million likes on Facebook, is she just holding out for more money or something?

SJ: Yet another reason to love Mike Bridavsky. Not only does he safeguard the Internet’s most beloved cat, but also he is a huge animal activist. There are multiple adopted cats that live at the studio. He also has donated to and generated much income for animal shelters across the states using the power of the Bub. Truth be told, Lil Bub may have done some mixes on the new Apostle of Solitude record. Seriously though, we did a gatefold for the LP layout and there are many photos of us from the studio – there may be a Bub sighting in there, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

IMV: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. I always like to leave the last word to the artists – anything else you want to add?

SJ: Thank you, sir. Life is short, follow your bliss, listen to your gut.

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2 comments

Apostle of Solitude
Apostle of Solitude February 1, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Thank you very much for the kind words. Cheers!

Reply
Neil Ahrendt
Neil Ahrendt February 1, 2018 at 6:01 pm

congrats to the band. especially my neighbor mike. rock on

Reply

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