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An Interview With Owen Rundquist and Nolan Voss of Anicon

Any of our loyal Vault Hunters who may be in the habit of reading my articles is probably already well aware that in terms of American black metal, I’m all about Brooklyn – just like my tastes in hip-hop back in the day, oddly enough. Even if I didn’t have the same so-called ‘East Coast bias’ that so many baseball writers get accused of harboring, I’d still probably be first in line to tell you that Anicon is the shit. I mean, let’s just consider the band’s lineup here for a second:

Guitar & Vocals – Nolan Voss (also of Pyrolatrous)
Guitar & Vocals – Owen Rundquist (also of Trenchgrinder)
Bass – Alexander DeMaria (also of Yellow Eyes)
Drums – Lev Weinstein (also of Woe, Pyrolatrous, Krallice, Geryon)

Can you say ‘unfuckwithable’? Because that lineup is pretty well unfuckwithable – and I’m saying that as an avowed Woe fanboy. So when it comes to NYBM bands that don’t have Chris Grigg as their primary songwriter, Anicon is pretty easily the class of the field. Their second full-length Entropy Mantra came out this past June via Vendetta Records, who really seem to have their finger on the pulse of the NYBM scene (and USBM in general) despite being a German label: Anicon, Belus, and Woe all released their most recent albums on Vendetta, as well as recent efforts from other Vault favorites like Haunter, Black Vice, and Barrowlands.

On Entropy Mantra, Anicon take the things that made their first full-length Exegeses so compelling and somehow manage to improve on all of them: it’s both more technical and more melodic that anything they’ve done before, and includes what’s easily my favorite song Anicon has ever done: “Blood From A Road.” But enough of my rambling – I recently had the opportunity to talk with Anicon’s founding members/guitarists and vocalists Owen Rundquist and Nolan Voss about Entropy Mantra, and they provided some fascinating insights into both the album and the history of the band.

IMV: So first off, thanks for the interview. One of the things I’ve long appreciated about Anicon is how no two of your releases every really sound quite the same, but they’re all still immediately recognizable as Anicon records. Given the somewhat fluid nature of a lot of band lineups, that sort of thing seems to generally be the result of personnel changes, but yours has been incredibly stable – everything from 2014’s split with Belus onward has been recorded by the same four guys, and you don’t take a whole lot of time between releases, either. How do you manage those sorts of subtle reinventions in your songwriting from one release to the next?

Owen Rundquist: Ah thanks, I’m glad it comes off that way. There’s never been an intentional changing of direction or reinvention of our music; we just kind of go where the writing takes us. Everyone brings stuff in and we learn it and add what we hear it needs, and it’s always done with the intention of making that specific song the best thing it can be. I guess we’ve never really said ‘this is what we do or don’t do.’ Whenever someone is working with new ideas, we incorporate them as long as the feeling is right, and none of us want to feel like we’re repeating ourselves so often times if we identify a tendency in our writing we’ll intentionally look for other solutions. That said, for me personally anyway, if we stumbled onto something that fit perfectly and conveyed what we wanted, I’d be happy to stick with it for as long as it continued to do the job the right way. So the music goes where our heads and hearts go, I guess, or the music changes as we change.

Nolan Voss: I normally base my writing on what I’m listening to at the time. That kick-starts ideas and new possibilities. Normally, when we write we’ll notice certain aspects of song ideas that may sound stale or done way too many times, so there’s a sort of refining/elimination process when any us of bring ideas to the table.

IMV: Speaking of Anicon’s rate of productivity, you’ve released new music—even if it’s only one track, like last year’s split with Forest of Tygers—every year since 2012. That would be impressive enough in and of itself, but the fact that the four of you individually (but mostly Lev) also seem to play in about half the metal bands in NYC makes it even more so. How do you manage to juggle all those various band commitments and get in the studio so frequently?

OR: It’s not always easy, and there are definitely opportunities that we have to pass on from time to time because other members may already be committed elsewhere. It can be a pain sometimes honestly, but every band is a unique thing and that’s just one of our things, y’know? There’s no doubt that Anicon would tour more if we all just played in the one band, but it’s likely none of us would be happy with that arrangement either. We’re all very close, and part of that relationship is recognizing the project as something special, and that means being selective about where and when and what we play, so in that way our limited availability is actually probably a benefit to us.

For all of our releases, Anicon have only been in a proper recording studios three times now: once for the Belus split, once for Exegeses, and once for Entropy Mantra— everything else we’ve recorded on our own, either in our practice space, or, before we had a full lineup, at Nolan’s apartment and my painting studio. For the most part our recording schedule has been on our own terms and when we’ve been ready to record we’ve just picked a weekend and done it. A huge part of that is due to Nolan’s talent as an engineer and his troubleshooting while recording. We wouldn’t be able to turn out as much material as we have without his expertise.

NV: Luckily there hasn’t been much of a conflict with our schedules. We tend to either specifically focus on writing a new album or concentrate on touring. That seems to keep things less chaotic and it helps us stay productive.

IMV: So let’s switch gears and talk about Entropy Mantra. As I’m writing these questions, it’s been out for almost exactly two months. What have the responses been like so far? Do listeners seem to be getting what you hoped they would out of the record?

OR: It’s hard to know what people think of anything, honestly. I’ve read some reviews, and most of them are pretty positive, but I don’t put much stock in them. They often read like knee-jerk responses and then a paragraph or two attempting to justify those responses good or bad…usually with some terrible purple simile or something. Not always, but often. Like I read a review of a Primordial album years ago where they said it sounded like haggis tied to a post in gale force winds or some shit and I was like No! —  It sounds nothing fucking like that and that would never happen and that doesn’t tell me, the potential listener, anything. It’s like there’s a feedback loop of music writers that just read each other’s stuff and have this insular vacuum that their writing exists in.

Anyway, I’ve talked to some people directly that really seem to like it, my friends and people I consider peers seem to like it, so that feels good. That said, making this music is a pretty selfish thing for me, I think more about what the four of us are getting from it than what the potential listener might. Maybe that’s not entirely true. I would hope it could be a shared experience between us and the listener. If it’s compelling or cathartic in some way to the listener I would be satisfied with that.

NV: It’s been a pretty positive response overall. I don’t really have any expectations of what the listener should be getting from the album. The music has always been the focus of anything we put out, and we leave it up to the listeners for their own interpretations.

IMV: I’m very curious about the album’s title Entropy Mantra, which comes from the lyrics of “Names Written in Tar.” I’m not a physicist by any stretch, but my understanding of entropy is that it’s basically the tendency for any system to degenerate into disorder. I’ve read that the lyrics on the album are based on personal experiences of living in a sprawling urban environment. Is Entropy Mantra intended as a sort of social commentary about NYC? In a way, it’s kind of an interesting album to consider alongside Imperial Triumphant’s latest Vile Luxury– you seem to focus on different ends of the socioeconomic spectrum on your respective albums, but you also both seem to find the city lacking in a lot of ways.

OR: The lyrics in that song are about being on a journey and then returning to where you started and questioning why you came back. I wrote them last summer after traveling to see a close friend in Belgium and immediately after that I went to Wyoming for the eclipse. The city I was born in there was in the path of totality, so it seemed like an important thing to be present for. I also went and saw the Medicine Wheel in the Big Horn Mountains while I was there.  It was a really significant trip personally. I got back to New York and had a really different perspective, I had a lot of questions about what I was doing and why. It reminded me a lot of the conclusion of Narcissus and Goldmund.

So the title of the album is kind of a metaphor for living here; something you repeat over and over again until you erode and are lost. I don’t know if that really qualifies as broader social commentary, but more of a personal realization. I can’t comment too much on Imperial Triumphant’s record because I haven’t read the lyrics, but I don’t think you can live in NYC and not feel the pressure and stress of living here, so it makes sense that the art produced here would reflect that.

NV: New York isn’t so much lacking to me, as it is overwhelming and challenging at times. But those qualities are very appealing to me as well. Personally speaking, I think it’s easier to complain about something the more familiar you are with it. New York will always be a source of inspiration for me – whether it’s the constant feelings of anxiety and confinement or the calming effects of walking through the streets late at night. I think Entropy Mantra captures a lot of those feelings throughout the entire album.

IMV: I asked about the evolution in Anicon’s songwriting in the first question, but I want to get more specific here. One of the things that I find particularly striking about Entropy Mantra is that it’s something of a study in contrasts – it contains both some of your knottiest, most technical compositions, and some of your most melodic. “Blood From a Road” in particular seems to push in several different directions, and it may be my favorite thing the band has ever done. Since I take it for granted that Anicon is the sort of band that likes to challenge yourselves when you’re writing an album, do you find the challenge of writing techy riffs in any way different than writing more melodic stuff in terms of your mindset when approaching each?

OR: I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. Most of the more technical stuff is arrived at in a really organic way, just sitting there and working on the riffs until they sound the way they’re supposed to. Weird timing or changing timing is just from playing the parts to feel and then counting them out after the fact. Melodic stuff is usually written around a more general chord progression.

Working on “Blood From A Road” was kind of cool because it’s so much slower than anything else we’ve done. It allowed us to try some things that probably wouldn’t have worked at the speeds we usually play at. That’s important, I think, to take advantage of the parameters that you’re working within. It’s kind of like the concept in painting where you want to make an image work differently when you’re ten feet away than when you’re ten inches away. Overall, it was one of the harder songs to pull together. We had it more or less finished and played through it, and it kind of just fell flat for all of us. We scrapped everything but the main couple of riffs and then started it over again a few months later. I think it ended up being the last song to be finished on the album.

NV: Any time we write something new, it always feels a little bit challenging both melodically and technically. Our ideas are usually pretty solid for the most part, but then we go through the motions of reworking parts and refining the ideas during band practice. We all have constructive ideas and suggestions, which takes the pressure off of writing anything in this band.

IMV: I’ve read several reviews of Entropy Mantra that point out that you chose to have Nolan record and mix the album instead of working with Colin Marston as on your first full-length Exegeses. However, Nolan has actually recorded and mixed the majority of Anicon’s releases. Even so, what made you decide not to use an outside producer for this album like you did the last?

OR: Two big reasons, the first being that we wanted to have more control over the record and wanted to try some different recording techniques. When you go to another producer or engineer you’re kind of signing on to do the recording their way, and we wanted to do this one our way and try some new things. Plus, in addition to what I said before, Nolan has been working his ass off recording a ton of bands around Brooklyn, and we knew he would do a great job and we wanted to give him that opportunity. We made the decision just as Belus’s Apophenia was coming out, and we knew that he was up to the task after hearing it. Plus, this album felt like a really personal thing, so it just felt right to keep as much of it under our own personal control as possible. The second big reason was the money. We did this album for about a third to a quarter of the cost of the first one.

NV: I think it’s convenient in a lot of ways. I have a pretty good idea on what we’re going for stylistically, plus we have unlimited time during the mixing process. There’s more time to really try all the different possibilities without any constraints. Also, it’s another part of the creative process that I enjoy contributing to the band.

IMV: I’m always curious about setups and how musicians dial in their sound, so what did your rigs look like for recording? How close are they to what you use when you play live?

OR: The rigs were almost exactly what we play live. I don’t actually know what brand kit Lev plays, but we brought his kit from the practice space, and other than a few additional cymbals it was exactly as it is at practice. Alex plays a Specter bass through a Sunn Concert Lead head, and at the studio we used an Ampeg 8×10 cabinet (on loan to us from Black Anvil). I usually play through a 5150 block letter, but it was acting funny so I used Nolan’s 6505 with the MXR 10 band EQ in the effects loop, then into my Mesa Dual Rec cab which has two V30s and two C90s in an X pattern. I played an Ibanez Artist with Seymour Duncans, which was the same guitar I used on Exegeses, though since then I’ve switched to a Gibson Explorer XPL as my main…it just has a crunchier, brighter sound that I like. The only trickery was that we double tracked the guitars using re-amping, and I think maybe there’s a DI track, too. One track is distorted and the other has spatial effects like delay, reverb, etc. but we each used our live pedal boards in real time during the re-amping.

NV: I used a Peavey 6505, a PRS SE guitar (volume /tone knobs cranked and always set on the bridge pickup!) along with a Mesa/Boogie, half open back on top for highs and mid-range and a Road King on the bottom for more low end power. I have an H20 echo/chorus pedal and Holy Grail for time effects. I use a Boss sustainer and MXR 6 band EQ pedal for a little boost occasionally, and a Boss noise suppressor to clean things up a bit. I run all the pedals through the effects loop on the amp and run an old Korg tuner direct into the head. I use the same exact setup live as well and find it pretty painless when setting up…for the most part.

IMV: Owen handled the cover art for Entropy Mantra, and I have to admit that I find the image kind of upsetting on a certain level. Are you willing to unpack the image a bit and talk about how it ties into the album’s themes?

OR: Yeah, it’s not really intended to be a direct illustration of anything in the album. More something that touches on key concepts and captures the mood. It speaks about it indirectly. So it’s this solitary, sinister shadow moving across and old wall toward a portal. It could be inside or outside, it could be predatory or it could be trying to escape. I think the ambiguity of the situation is where the potency of the image comes from. It’s dark and confusing and doesn’t really feel right and just is. I think that’s what living in New York can be like at times.

IMV: Near as I can tell, you’ve only gigged once since Entropy Mantra was released. Are there any plans for a more extended run of dates at any point soon?

OR: Yes. We will be on tour in Europe for the first time this November with Yellow Eyes. We’re also looking at doing the West Coast early next year. Other than that, I’d like to do another show or two in New York and maybe some one-offs out of town between now and then. We’ll see what happens.

NV: European tour in November with Yellow Eyes!!!

IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you want to add?

OR: Thanks for your interest in the album and the thoughtful questions.

NV: Thanks so much for the interview!

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