At this point, our loyal Vault Hunters most likely click on an interview or premiere/stream with my name on it with the expectations of hearing some black fucking metal. That’s not without good reason – I’d guesstimate that roughly 85% of the music I wrote about here at the Vault in 2018 was of the black or blackened variety. However, I did a fair amount of reflecting during my December (more-or-less) ‘sabbatical’ from IMV, and I decided (among other things) that I want to branch out in terms of the bands I cover.
With that in mind, here’s one from the ‘…And Now For Something Completely Different’ files: NYC’s Brave the Waters, whose sophomore full-length Chapter II – Days of Solitude is due out in a couple of weeks. Comprised of Rick Habeeb (Electric Guitar) and Tom Anderer (Acoustic Guitar and Bass) – both of whom also play in progressive doom trio Grey Skies Fallen and with avant-garde deathgrinders Buckshot Facelift – the duo play a partly improvised style of ambient/atmospheric instrumental post-rock that’s chill as fuck and all kinds of pretty, but with a definite doleful side to it. As the band described it in the promotional materials for the album:
These songs are sad and somber but reveal hope in the darkest places of self-consciousness and are very thoughtful. The album tells a detailed story without words, allowing the listener to evoke the settings and characters their imagination creates from the ambient soundtrack.
The whole ‘story without words” thing may seem like a bit of a stretch, but there really is something story-like about Chapter II – Days of Solitude that extends beyond the album and song titles. Thanks to the layered approach that Anderer and Habeeb take in their songwriting, each element feels like the building blocks within a larger narrative. In a song like “Out of Nowhere,” which we’re premiering here today at the Vault, the rests and silences within the song’s structure are just as significant as the notes they play. There’s a name for that – negative space, and it’s an important technique art and photography. I don’t know, however, that I’ve ever mentioned a band’s use of negative space in their music before. Praising a band for the notes they don’t play? It may seem counter-intuitive, but you won’t need to spend much time with “Out of Nowhere” to understand exactly what I mean.
Chapter II – Days of Solitude will be available digitally on February 1 from the BTW Bandcamp page (preorder here), and details about a vinyl pressing of the album will be available soon. In the meantime, check out “Out of Nowhere” and my interview with Rick Habeeb below.
Indy Metal Vault: So first off, thanks for the interview. I have to say up front here that I’ve encountered plenty of…I don’t know if you’d call them side projects, but bands featuring members who also play together in other bands, and more often than not the side band sounds so similar to the main band that I wonder why they bothered to release it under a different name. That is definitely not the case with Brave the Waters – the ambient soundscapes of this project couldn’t sound any more different than either the deathgrind of Buckshot Facelift or the prog/doom metal of Grey Skies Fallen. You’ve been doing both of those bands for longer than Brave the Waters, so I want to begin by asking what the impetus was for the two of you to start making such radically different music?
Rick Habeeb: Thank you for having us. Grey Skies Fallen’s drummer Sal Gregory was a founding member of Buckshot Facelift, along with Tom and Will Smith. In late 2012, after they had recorded Elder’s Rasp, I joined the band. This is when Tom and I met. Immediately, we realized we clicked together musically, and we asked Tom to join GSF shortly thereafter. Soon after that, we rented out a short-lived rehearsal room in Brooklyn, and it was during those few months in 2014 that Brave the Waters came together. A lot of times, we would do a Buckshot/Grey Skies Fallen double practice, and then when we were done with that we would unwind by enjoying some herbal stimulation and playing some mellow stuff after everyone had left. That quickly evolved into the first Brave the Waters album. The last weekend we had that room, we went in there and hammered out what would be the basics for the first album’s songs.
IMV: The promotional materials for your forthcoming Chapter II: Days of Solitude mention that your music is a mix of composed and improvised elements. What’s your process like – how do your songs end up coming together? Do you improvise as a duo at all, or are your roles in the writing more clearly defined?
RH: So far, we’ve made three recordings…the first album, a single that was released on our Bandcamp page in 2015, and now this second album. For the first album and the single, we had what we call “blueprints” for the songs and then we would add to those when we recorded. Since we started Brave the Waters, there has always been an improvised element, and a fun, loose feel to it, and we try to keep that alive in each release. For this album, Tom wrote the music for all of the songs, and I basically came up with my melodies while we were recording.
IMV: Like a lot of ambient music, Chapter II: Days of Solitude is an easy album to get lost in, especially when listening on earbuds. However, it manages to avoid the ‘background music’ trap that a lot of ambient music falls into. There are enough different moods and textures woven throughout the songs that your music seems to constantly be in motion, if that makes any sense. The promotional materials mention that the album ‘tells a detailed story without words.’ During the songwriting process, did you think of those textures and moods as elements of that story – narrative devices, settings, etc.?
RH: Yes. Everything is connected and woven together. The song titles on each of our releases give insight and direction to a larger story, but allow each listener to fill in the gaps and narrative without having lyrics or a vocal. The song structures themselves serve as a backdrop to this main story, and help express the ups and downs throughout…but yes, the songs are purposely placed and arranged to tell a story.
IMV: In listening to the album, it’s pretty obvious the care you take in layering the elements within each song. I’ve not seen any recording or production credits for Chapter II: Days of Solitude – was it a DIY recording, or did you go into a studio and work with a producer on it?
RH: As with Grey Skies Fallen and Buckshot Facelift, we recorded with our pal Keith Moore at Audio Playground in upstate New York. Keith is kind of our co-producer on our various projects, and he will interject at times with thoughts and advice. GSF started recording with Keith on 2005’s Two Way Mirroralbum, and personally, I haven’t recorded with anyone else since.
IMV: I generally ask about gear, since I find the subject fascinating. Even if I didn’t, though, I’d be asking how you achieved the amazing range of tones on Chapter II: Days of Solitude. What do your recording rigs look like? Do they bear any similarities at all to your studio setups for your other bands?
RH: Tom and I love gear, too! For the metal bands, I use a beastly VHT Pittbull amp, but that’s not really known for its clean tones. I used an amp more suited for that on Brave the Waters. To be honest, I don’t remember what amp it was. It was one of Keith’s. In regards to effects, for my parts, the star of the show here is the Strymon Big Sky reverb. The effect was a tad more prominent on the first album, but it’s still there on this one. It makes things sound majestic and huge. Couple that with the Boss DD7 for some delay, and that’s the basis of my BTW sound. As for guitars, I used my Gibson Explorer New Century model for this one.
Tom plays a vintage 70’s Rickenbacker (a 4001 from 1972, to be exact) bass in Buckshot, and since BTW tunes similarly, he used that bass on this. We all know what an amazing bass that is. A Martin Aura guitar was used for the acoustics. That guitar sounded amazing when played through Tom’s mid 70’s Fender Super Six Reverb AND his 1979 Hiwatt DR201 head, which was connected to a custom-built 2×12 by Black Market Customs. Effects-wise, Tom used an Origin Effects Cali76 compressor, a Strymon Flint, Strymon El Capistan, and the Boss Space Echo.
IMV: Travis Smith has done more covers for metal bands than I want to even try to count. I will go on record, though, as saying that his cover for Chapter II: Days of Solitude is the most striking piece of art I’ve ever seen from him. How closely did you work with him on the concept? I’m especially curious about the use of color – he’s not generally known for using those kinds of warm shades.
RH: I’ve been friends with Travis for a long time. We met years ago on a metal message board and have been online friends since. GSF was finally able to work with Travis in 2010 on our Along Came Life EP, and I’ve used him for every subsequent release I’ve been involved with. The guy is the best. We throw ideas back and forth, he tells me which sound best to him, and we go from there. For this one, I wanted a natural progression from the Chapter Icover, which to me is an amazing piece of art. I fucking love his Brave the Waters output. It makes us want to get working on Chapter IIIso we can see what that cover will look like! A lot of the inspiration we get from BTW is from nature, so we wanted that reflected in the cover. We discussed making it look both later in the day and later in the year from the first album’s cover. So that’s where the colors of impending dusk come from.
IMV: Everybody seems to ask the influences question, but I don’t think your musical influences are all that difficult to pick out – I hear a lot of post-rock bands like Mogwai and Sigur Rós, with perhaps a touch of Pink Floyd at their spaciest. So instead, let me ask this: were there any non-musical sources – books, film, visual art, etc. – that inspired your playing on Chapter II: Days of Solitude?
RH: I was inspired by a particular Indica strain the weekend we recorded this album! I don’t recall which, but it did the trick.
Tom is heavily influenced by the Polish painter Zdzislaw Beksinski and the German painter Caspar David Friedrich. The beautiful landscapes of Friedrich invoke a serene, peaceful feeling while Beksinski’s work is extremely dark and surreal. He also just loves anything sad. He’s a cheerful guy, but deep down he loves that melodic sadness and uses it when writing.
IMV: Near as I can tell, Brave the Waters doesn’t play live. Any chance of that changing once Chapter II: Days of Solitude is released?
RH: Interesting question. We’ve mentioned it in passing, but I think if given the right opportunity, we would break this out in a live setting. Maybe if there is some downtime this summer. We’ll see. I think the setting would have to be perfect.
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?
RH: Our other projects are quite busy as well. 2019 is shaping up to be a packed year for releases. Grey Skies Fallen is currently recording the new album Cold Dead Lands. Tracking will be completed by the end of January, and then it’s off to Dan Swanö for mixing and mastering. This will be the first time we’ve worked with this amazing legend, and it’s been something I’ve wanted to do for decades. Once he is done, we plan on shopping the record to labels so it can get a proper release. There’s only so much that Tom and I can do financially, and we’d really rather the album be given a good chance to succeed out of the gate. Similarly, we are gonna shop this new BTW around a bit in hopes of securing a vinyl release. If it were up to us, everything we do would be given the glorious vinyl treatment. Shit is expensive though, and splitting the costs only two ways instead of four or five ways is rough.
Anyway, we’re looking at a summer 2019 release for the new Grey Skies Fallen album. Also, the live GSF lineup is coming together, and we will have a few surprises to announce down the line. Hint: triple guitar attack!
As for Buckshot, we are currently writing a bunch and plan on recording this spring or summer. Both bands are getting our live act together again, after an extended time of not gigging.
There’s also a new Swedish-inspired death metal project called Crimson Dusk that we hope to get started on soon. We’ve put together a gross lineup, and the goal with that is a three or four-song EP. This is actually the first time I’ve ever mentioned that project publicly, so more news on that will be coming in the months ahead.