With all due respect to both dogs (even though I’m more of a cat person myself) and the Chinese Zodiac, 2018 should really be called The Year of the Moth. While Chicago-based quintet The Atlas Moth‘s sophomore full-length, 2011’s An Ache for the Distance, was well received in the metal blogosphere, topping several year-end best-of lists, their recently released fourth album Coma Noir seems poised to be the record that takes them to the next level. It’s first week Billboard chart positions were the best of the band’s decade-plus careers, and for good reason – it may well be the strongest outing in the band’s impressive discography, taking the band’s trademark brand of psychedelic sludge and dialing up the heaviness thanks to the addition of Broken Hope’s Mike Miczek on drums.
Fresh off a brief run of dates with Royal Thunder and Mirrors For Psychic Warfare (which our own Jeri Mize photographed the final date of in Atlanta), guitarist/vocalist Stavros Giannopoulos (also of Chrome Waves and ex-Twilight) was good enough to give us a bit of his time and answer some questions.
And if you haven’t heard Coma Noir yet, either head over to The Moth’s Bandcamp page and give it a listen, or better yet just pop over the Prosthetic Records webstore and buy a copy. It really is that fucking good.
Indy Metal Vault: Hey, man. So first of all, thank you for being willing to answer a few questions. I’ve seen recently that you’ve been doing stuff like Facebook live Q&A sessions for Revolver magazine, so I really appreciate that you’re still into talking to the smaller blogs as well.
Stavros Giannopoulos: No problemo, homie. I don’t discriminate.
IMV: So as I’m writing these questions, Coma Noir has been out for about a week, and you’ve been out with Royal Thunder and Mirrors for Psychic Warfare for about that same span of time. Since I’m guessing you wont have a chance to answer these until you get back from this run of dates, how did it feel to be back out again? How’s the new material going over in a live setting?
SG: It was wonderful once I was in the midst of it. I definitely grew comfortable being at home and was rusty as far getting myself personally ready to leave for tour. I’m talking packing, tying up loose ends at home, etc. etc. Not to mention the first show was not only in Chicago but also on my birthday. I don’t know why I thought doing a record release/tour kickoff at home on my birthday was an intelligent idea but, needless to say, it was much more than I should’ve taken on before leaving. Luckily, I didn’t have too many things I overlooked and it was a short run. We played the entire record on this run and it seemed daunting to play for an hour but I feel like this record is a fast listen and it never seemed like we overstayed our welcome, which was a great feeling for sure.
IMV: Moving on to the new album…my immediate reaction upon watching the “Coma Noir” video for the first time is probably the exact same reaction almost everyone had upon seeing it for the first time: this song is really fucking heavy. After having spent quite a bit of time with the full album over the last week, that’s pretty much my reaction to Coma Noir as a whole. While it retains a lot of the atmospheric/psychedelic textures of your past albums, Coma Noir is easily the heaviest record in The Atlas Moth’s discography. Did you go into the songwriting process for the album with the mindset that you wanted to do something heavier, or was that something that evolved as you were working on it?
SG: I don’t think we ever set out with a goal in mind as far as what we should be aiming to write other than the best record we can. I will say that adding a death metal drummer definitely brought out a lot of heaviness in our riffs and inspired us to be heavier. With all due respect to our two previous drummers, they weren’t metal drummers and a lot of riffs we brought to the table probably wound up sounding less heavy because of how they played over them. We definitely wrote some newer riffs that we didn’t have already written once we started writing with Mike as well.
IMV: Speaking of, you added drummer Mike Miczek, who also plays with Broken Hope and handles live drums for Jungle Rot, for Coma Noir. How did you end up hooking up with him? At what point did he come into the picture? Was it like “oh, we’ve got a death metal drummer now – we can start writing heavier shit” or was it more like “we’re writing heavier shit – better go find ourselves a death metal drummer?” Also, what’s the current status of The Old Believer drummer Dan Lasek? Metal Archives still lists him as a member of the band, but I know they aren’t always totally accurate.
SG: Mike was playing in a side project with Andrew called Eat Their Own. As that kinda fizzled out for reasons I don’t exactly know, we had fired Dan and he just fit with us personally so well and is obviously a fantastic drummer, so it was an easy decision to make. Unfortunately, as I’ve been friends with Dan since we were kids, I haven’t spoken much to him since we let him go and I am not too sure about what he’s doing musically nowadays
IMV: The one thing that has always struck me about The Atlas Moth’s music is the vocal interplay between you and Dave Kush. There are plenty of bands with more than one vocalist, but none of them have quite the same dynamic It’s not like the Moth has ever really sounded like anyone else musically, but for me it’s the vocals that really set the band apart from any other band playing in even remotely a similar style. What I’m curious about is how the two of you divide the vocals. Generally when there’s a band with more than one vocalist, you can assume that whoever sings the song wrote the song. Since it seems like you both sing on most Moth tracks, how does that work?
SG: Well, it kinda depends on who has the best idea. Who brought the initial riffs doesn’t really have much bearing on who is singing the most on any particular song. There have been times that Dave brought all the riffs, like “Holes in the Desert,” which I wound up singing on more than he and vice versa. There are a couple tracks on this record I didn’t even play guitar on simply because I felt it was unnecessary, and it let Dave be able to focus on playing. He writes pretty difficult riffs at times, and he’s definitely painted himself into a corner with playing and singing at times. I think on this record, it was the first time we really nailed not over doing vocals.
IMV: So correct me if I’m wrong, but Coma Noir seems to be the first time the Moth has worked with producer extraordinaire Stanford Parker, which strikes me as next to impossible given how ubiquitous he is in terms of Chicago metal. Is this really the first time you’ve worked with him in the studio? And assuming it is, what was the experience like compared to previous Moth albums? If I’m not mistaken, band member Andrew Regan produced the last couple of Moth records, right?
SG: Andrew produced all the Moth albums until this one. And yea, it is kinda crazy he never worked with us but Sanford and I did two Twilight records together, so I personally had prior experience working with him in the studio. It was nice in my eyes, as having those outside ears really helped. It’s kinda hard to see the big picture when you’re so close to the music. Having someone there to push you and critique you without being so connected to the songs was a huge help.
IMV: To follow up on that last question, I’ve heard/read that Joe Duplantier of Gojira almost produced Coma Noir. How much truth is there to that story? I know the Moth has toured with Gojira at least once. Assuming it is true, what ultimately kept it from happening?
SG: It’s absolutely true. Joe is a good friend and a big supporter of the Moth. Basically, we kept pushing back when we were planning to record until there was no time for him to work on the record with us. We still hope to in the future, but between Gojira’s schedule and ours it just couldn’t work this time around.
IMV: So I haven’t had a chance to see the lyrics yet for Coma Noir, but based on everything I have seen about it the record seems to be the most conceptual the band has done to this point. I’m not going to ask about specific songs or lyrics, since no one ever seems to want to answer those questions, anyway. Instead, I’ll ask what it was that inspired the band to do something so (apparently) conceptual this time around. At what point in the songwriting process did the noir concept come into play?
SG: Well it is and isn’t a concept record. After we finished touring for The Old Believer, I was trying different ways to create and I started writing a story. Basically a script for a film noir/horror project. As I was getting bored of writing and the Moth started getting in full on writing mode, I basically shifted over certain ideas from the story to the record. I wanted to write lyrics from the position of a cult leader antagonizing and threatening the listener. Kind of a “follow us or die” type of thing, which did correlate to my feelings I wanted to express.
IMV: The Atlas Moth has always been the sort of band that cares about the way their music is presented visually. Again, if memory serves you worked with former Demon Hunter guitarist Don Clark on the color-changing art for The Old Believer. Who was the artist for Coma Noir, and how closely did you work with that artist on the overall aesthetic for the record?
SG: It is a huge deal to me, for sure. I oversee all the artwork and usually have the initial idea for our albums. Our friend Killian Blount shot the photos, with some direction from myself as well as Ryan Oliver and Dave Wimsatt, who have worked on our previous music videos and the special edition package of Coma Noir. I had a few ideas of what shots I wanted to include on the record and we set them together with a couple of really talented models and made it happen. Initially, the inside photo was meant for the cover but the picture of the guy in the chair just spoke to me as an album cover.
IMV: After releasing your last couple of albums on Profound Lore, you signed to Prosthetic Records for Coma Noir. How did that come about? The Atlas Moth isn’t the sort of band I’d usually associate with Prosthetic.
SG: I think that was one of the reasons we wanted to go with Prosthetic. Profound Lore did a great job with Ache but I felt didn’t follow up with Old as well as they could have. We are not an easy band that can just be taken at face value. We need support and we need help growing our audience, and Prosthetic was offering the kind of assistance we were looking for, and thus far I must say they have proven just that.
IMV: Since I absolutely adored the first Chrome Waves EP and I pester Bob Fouts about this whenever I have a chance to talk to him, I feel like it’s only right that I ask you as well – how’s work coming on the new Chrome Waves record? Last I heard, it’s basically finished aside from vocals?
SG: Yeah, I hope to have some time over the spring to sit down with them and fully immerse myself in them and get it done. I can’t really write vocals for more than one record at a time or else I feel like it’s a disservice to both.
IMV: I’m more than a little hesitant to ask this, but since you were in Twilight it seems relevant. As I’m guessing you’re aware, Blake Judd is apparently clean and has resurrected Nachtmystium. It also seems like he’s mended fences with both Jeff Wilson and Jef Whitehead. Have you talked to him at all since he’s resurfaced?
SG: I don’t wish him anything but the best, but I don’t really feel like he’s tried to mend any bridges with me. Hopefully he actually has his shit together this time.
IMV: So as I mentioned earlier, you’re currently on the road supporting Coma Noir, but that brief jaunt will likely end before you get to these questions. Does the Moth have any additional touring plans at this point? And what would it take to get you to play Indianapolis at some point? I mean, I know some people…
SG: I’m sure we’ll get down to Indy sometime this year. We’re doing a run with Mustard Gas and Roses in May/June, and are working on plans for some one offs in the summer as well as some more extensive touring in the fall. We plan on being out there a lot, but not as frivolously as we have done in the past.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artist – anything else you want to add?
SG: Thanks for asking some really intelligent questions, and tell Bob I said Metallica >>> Slayer forever.