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An Interview With Stephen Cummings of SIXES

SoCal quartet SIXES is misanthropy in musical form. There’s really no other way to put it. If you can listen to their six track, sixty-three minute debut opus Methistopheles and not end up wanting to hurt yourself or someone you love, then you either need to check your pulse or lay off the Xanax for a bit. It’s droning, abrasive music fueled by drugs and self-loathing that speaks directly to the miserable motherfucker that lives inside of all of us. It’s also abso-fucking-lutely brilliant, and I can only imagine how much more suffocating these songs will be in a live setting. Fortunately, I won’t have to wait too long to find out – SIXES will be hitting the road starting in late May for their Worship Amplifiers, Not Gods Tour, including a stop at Indiana City Brewing on June 4.

SIXES guitarist/vocalist Stephen Cummings was good enough to answer a few questions for us via email about the band, badass amp combos, and making miserable music.

Indy Metal Vault: So first off, thanks so much for agreeing to an interview. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time the last couple of weeks with Methistopheles, and I have to say – this is one colossal fucking bummer of a record, and I absolutely love it. SIXES is a bit of a mystery as a band, though. I like to do a bit of research before writing an interview so that I don’t ask the same questions you’ve already answered a dozen times, but there’s barely anything out there about the band aside from who you all are and that you formed in California in early 2016. SIXES doesn’t even have a Metal Archives page. Can you talk a bit about how SIXES came together? Have any of you played together previously in other projects?

Stephen Cummings: Thank you for the interview, glad the record bummed you out. We have kept things in the dark about who we are, and how we met somewhat intentionally. We have all been playing in the SoCal area for quite awhile in various different projects. With SIXES, we just wanted to focus on the music and the atmosphere it creates. There’s a lot of “rockstars” when you play around the Southern California area, and that’s just not what we are about. It seems that around here bands are more focused on their image, back story, and some hyper inflated sense of ego than they are on the music and what they can create in a live setting. So we have just stayed away from all that. For example, we don’t even talk on stage, none of that rabble-rousing bravado that for us seems to kill the mood of what could be a very intimate experience. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, there are some really great bands out here. It must be the cynic in me.

IMV: The first word that comes to mind when thinking about how to describe Methistopheles is “harsh.” The riffs, the vocals, the tones, the attitude, all of it – this record is essentially the sonic equivalent of sandpaper. How quickly after coming together did you arrive at that sound? Did you get together in the rehearsal space that first time knowing exactly what you wanted to do, or was that something that evolved as you played together more?

SC: The sonic equivalent of sandpaper, that’s a new one. I like it. The sound just happened. We didn’t intentionally sit down, and say it has to sound like this, or we can’t do that. It’s not something we talked about. I suppose you can say it was a very quick evolution. “A Cross To Burn” was the first song we wrote. It includes a myriad of our different influences as musicians, and when we jammed it out we all just kind of looked at each other and went yeah, this is awful, miserable, and it hurts, this is what we wanted to hear when we go to clubs.

IMV: Aside from that harshness, there are two things I find particularly striking about Methistopheles. The first is how long it is: six tracks in a little over 60 minutes. Given how unrelentingly bleak your music is, the album does end up being something of a test of endurance – how much can you take before needing to come up for air? Was there ever any concern on your part that the album might be too long for some listeners, or was that more of a deliberate move? Kind of like a middle finger to anyone who can’t hang in for the whole thing?

SC: Come up for air? Why? It was brought up during the recording process once. Over many drinks someone spoke up and said something about the fact that these songs run long. I don’t know if it was a person in the band, or the engineer, or whoever. It wasn’t something we had put much thought into during the writing process. I think we all just laughed at whoever said it. A lot of us like droning music, so it just came naturally. The general consensus became if you can’t hang with it, then this music isn’t for you – you don’t get it. If they want to call that a middle finger, than go ahead. People are out there trying to cram as many hooks as they can into three minute commercials, and then sell it for ninety-nine cents and call it art. No thank you. Our art isn’t a tool we use to sell ourselves.

IMV: The second thing that really stands out is the first half of closing track “Voidkiller,” which is dominated by clean guitar tones and cleanly sung vocals. In some ways, that might be the most unsettling stretch of music on all of Methistopheles, because it’s this strange oasis of hazy, narcotic almost-calm coming after so much ugliness, which then makes the rest of the track feel even more abrasive when the heaviness kicks in. It’s a fucking brilliant move, and it works particularly well as a closing track – lull the listener in and then deliver the knockout blow. Since it’s so different than anything else on the record, what were you aiming for with that song?

SC: Thank you for the compliment. As with all the songs on the record it comes from a personal place. You’ve got it right when you say narcotic, because that’s exactly what it is. It’s a lonely place, full of sadistic fantasy, guilt, and remorse. It comes from a time in my life where I was killing a void inside of me with not the healthiest of relationships and even worse drug habits. I didn’t know who I was, or even how I felt. I didn’t exist. I just filled myself full of things to become something else. I abused people and substances trying to create substance. I don’t think there was an intentional aim with that song, the whole album revolves around a theme, but it was one of the more painful to put down pen to paper. A lot of guilt surfaced while writing the lyrics to that, and the music just came with the territory.

IMV: In general, what’s your songwriting process like? Does one person write most of the riffs, or do you tend to jam songs out in the rehearsal room? A bit of both? And do you intend to write so many 10+ minute songs, or is that just kind of how they come out?

SC: We do a lot of jamming in the studio, and we all like to play so we meet up pretty frequently. There’s always a lot of riffs and song ideas coming from that smoke filled room. Generally we play off of each other and build upon what’s being laid down at the given time. It’s rare that someone will come in with a whole song written and ready to go. That’d probably get pretty boring too, meeting up to play someone else’s songs all the time. Our sound comes from all of us writing to the needs of the particular aesthetic of a song. We never intend for a song to have a particular length, they go on as long as they go, which may be a detriment given the limited run times of vinyl, but we’d rather just write for the song than try and constrain things.

IMV: I always like to ask at least one gear-related question, since the topic fascinates me. I know that SIXES uses unconventional amplifier/cabinet combinations to in order to get your tones. What did your rigs look like when you went into 13 O’clock Studios to record Methistopheles? Are they essentially the same as what you’ll take with you on the road?

SC: Now the fun stuff, glad you asked. We are always acquiring and trying out new things, so what we brought into the studio is definitely different than what we bring on the road. It’s tough, because some venues we just can’t fit all of our gear on the stage, so we’ll play with a stripped down version of what we prefer. It does make for a great time sitting in the studio working on different amp, and cab combinations to see what kind of sounds we can get. When we went in to record Meth we knew we didn’t want to use any amp modeling. We wanted to get the closest representation of what our amps, and cabs sound like when we jam as we could. A raw record, not something produced to the point that’s it’s not us anymore.

I used my aptly named Sunnpeg rig which is two 1980’s Ampeg SS-150 combos, one with the stock Eminence 12” (at least I’m pretty sure they are rebranded Eminence speakers) and the other is loaded with a Celestion Sidewinder. I love these amps, the best solid sate amp I’ve ever heard. Each of those drive an early 70’s Sunn 612s and Sunn 610s respectively. Hannes came in with a Mesa Triple Rectifier pushing a Verellen 4×12 loaded with Warehouse Veteran 30’s and a 4×12 Marshall JCM800 1960A which was great for capturing that low rumble, while also being able to get that ear piercing feedback. Zander brought this absolute beast of a cab, which is the 70’s Sunn 412LH paired with a 70’s Sunn Concert Bass.That was such a pain in the ass to move around due to the fact that it was snowing when we went to record. We were trying to carry all these huge cabs across the ice, and snow covered ground just slipping all over the place. It must have been quite the thing to observe. Brent Wisdom, the studio owner and engineer, must have thought we lost our minds. It looked like we were getting ready to play an arena not record an album.

IMV: Speaking of touring, I know that you’re booked for a couple festivals this year – Austin Terror Fest, Doomed and Stoned Chicago. Do you intend to do any additional touring, or are you just focusing on fests this year? And I’m curious as to how SIXES generally goes over with the stoner/doom crowd? I’m guessing that you probably seriously harsh the mellows of the average Mothership fan.

SC: We are doing a U.S. tour this year. Something around thirty dates, I believe. We were really flattered to get the requests to be on Austin Terror Fest and Chicago Doomed & Stoned. The line-ups for both of those are great. I think we’ll have to take a couple days off just to enjoy the festivals. We’ve only done a couple of the stoner/doom shows. We haven’t had a bad reaction, seems like people get into the droning aspect of our live performance. I mean we play miserable music for miserable people. Who isn’t miserable on the inside?

IMV: Methistopheles is coming out via Black Bow Records, which was founded by Jon Davis of Conan. How did that deal come about? I know SIXES played some dates with Conan – was that before or after you signed with the label?

SC: That was after we played with Conan. We are big fans of what they do: massive tone, dark music, and a wall of amps and cabs that’ll knock you on your ass. The original lyrics to “Fogbreather” were actually written about Conan, but we changed them because it was just too funny. I sent the original lyrics to Jon, he had a good laugh about it, really nice guy. I thought we were gonna get dropped from the label before we even released the album. Jon reached out to us quite awhile after we played with them in Los Angeles. It was quite unexpected. It made sense for us though, Black Bow caters to musicians that are all about tone and riffs, so it was a no brainer. They’ve been very supportive of the album, and the band. Actually, all the labels have been really supportive: Poisoned Mind, Forbidden Place, and Medusa Crush.

IMV: The cover art for Methistopheles is pretty much perfect. How closely did you work with artist Ryan Bartlett on the concept?

Stephen: We came up with the concept before we had an artist, based of the works of Eugene Delacroix, and Franz Xaver Simm. When we talked to Ryan about it, he completely understood what we were trying to do and he just ran with it. He did an amazing job. We worked closely on it, a lot of ideas went back and forth, things we hadn’t considered, and in the end it came out beautifully.

Methistopheles will be available on March 1 from Black Bow Records.

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