Geometry of the art according to Karnivool

With only two albums, and especially with the second Sound Awake, Karnivool managed to attract attention and create excitation. With Asymmetry released earlier this year, the Australians reached a new level, with an album that doesn’t fail to impress in terms of mastering and creativity. Karnivool is what progressive metal ought to be: artistically demanding, clever yet not necessarily elitist. Asymmetry suggests, just like Tool’s art to which they are often compared, that we could be surprised and amazed by the band’s future releases.

As complete as Asymmetry may be, the conception of this album and the functioning of the band show that Karnivool still has a margin for progression. It is what guitarist and main composer Andrew Goddard suggests in the following interview. He admits, for example, that the band should improve its collaborative process and that they are just beginning to “understand how this works and what the strengths of each band member are”. A band therefore informed, both regarding its art and itself, with a promising future.

We discuss this with Andrew Goddard below.

« When we try to find these balances, it’s never in balance. There are two sides of the coin for everything, but we find that’s where the beauty lies, the asymmetry of it all. »

Radio Metal: How would you explain, like you already said in the past, that the band is “mystified” during the songwriting process, which leads you to release only three albums in fifteen years?

Andrew Goddard (guitar): It’s something we don’t completely understand, the writing process. Every time we go into writing a new song, or a new record, we go in without any rules, without any sort of preconceived ideas about what we want to do. Every song is a battle. It always does take a long time for the songs to come together, but we allow that time for the songs to gestate. Sometimes we have to bash the songs into shape, and sometimes they come together naturally.

You also said that the band needed to speed things up and make the frequency of album releases a lot faster. Why? Are you afraid that people will forget the band in between albums?

No, we’re not afraid of that. It can be very frustrating, and we know we can speed it up if we really try. It’s got to do with getting people in the same place – our singer lives over in Melbourne now. Another reason we’d like to speed things up is, the longer it takes, the more it costs the band. We’re independent, we don’t have a record label taking up the bill or anything. We write music, and the longer it takes, the more money we spend on it, basically. Being an independent band, you have to be able to work and get paid a wage to afford the rent. Every time, we cut it very fine with our budget and we end up paying for it. That’s one of the reasons, you know. The other is, I think the music we write quicker is usually the better stuff, with a few exceptions. The song “Change” took six years in the making, and that’s one of my proudest achievements.

With such a long and hard writing and recording process, are you close to hundred percent satisfied with the record you just made, or do you still find things that could be improved?

We always find things that could be improved with every album! We’re never entirely happy with it. It’s always like you’re in the process instead of completing it 100%. This time, there are things that I’m very much proud of and I think we got right, and there are things I think we didn’t get right. But that’s just the nature of recording an album. We’re never 100% happy with what we did, so it means there’s room for improvement and growth. I think it’s supposed to be that way with things you’ve created. There’s contentment down the road. I’m very proud now of what we’ve created, but for a good year afterwards, I’m still picking things out of it and going: “That could have been done better”. Now I can really appreciate it for what it is.

How would you define the concept of “Asymmetry” presented in this record?

It’s not so much a concept record. The title “Asymmetry” was one that we found summed up the record perfectly. “Asymmetry” means different things to different members of the band. For me, it means trying to strike up a balance between many things, the light and the dark, and the heavy and the atmospheric, masculine and feminine. It can even be about production stuff, the balance between analog and digital, dry and wet sounds, that sort of stuff. When we try to find these balances, it’s never in balance. There are two sides of the coin for everything, but we find that’s where the beauty lies, the asymmetry of it all. Even the structures of the songs, and the structure of the whole album, are quite asymmetrical. That’s sort of generally what it means to us. There might be a way to relate to some of the lyrics, but we like to leave it ambiguous and let the listeners draw their own conclusions from the music.

You said bipolarity at the beginning could be something negative, as it was hard for things to take shape; how did you manage to turn it into a positive element in the songwriting process?

There’s gotta be a certain… Well, I don’t know if there has to be, but it seems to be the way we work now. I love music where there’s a tension and a release, but it’s never an easy process. I think a lot of Karnivool’s music can be summed up by overcoming obstacles, making something positive out of something negative. We’re trying to deal with and conjure up emotions and feelings in our music. A lot of people might think anger or desperation and all that sort of stuff might be negative, but I find that sort of stuff ultimately positive if it’s put into an artistic form. It’s definitely an outlet; music, to me, is an outlet. I think a lot of the tension on the record is the actual process of creating it, because it’s never easy. It’s full of obstacles along the way, and you want that to be in the music.

Was it intentional to make this record more complex? Or is it just the way things got out of the writing process?

It was never really the intention. If anything, I was very keen on simple things, and making more out of less. That’s something we tried to do in the past, but it never seems to happen! I guess we’re kind of complex people by nature, and the process is very complicated – the way the ideas seem to flow and come to us. It’s our job to bring them down into some kind of tangible song. But sometimes, the best form that we can get them into is complex, and so we end up with a complex record. But that wasn’t the intention.

« I think a lot of the tension on the record is the actual process of creating it. »

Themata was written only by you, whereas Sound Awake was more of a collaborative effort. What was it like this time? Do you have the feeling that the band members have pushed their collaboration to the next level?

Yeah, I think so. In some ways yes, and in some ways no. I mean, a lot of this record was written with myself and our bass player, who wrote a lot of the riffs. I worked on the structures and some of the guitar parts. A lot of the stuff comes from drums and bass jams. As far as the full collaboration goes, that only happens in short bursts. It wasn’t very often that we had the whole band in one place. The collaborative effort went over a long time. I think we need to try and improve that in the future. But everyone’s kind of got their role, we’re all part of the clockwork of the Karnivool machine. This is the second time we’ve been collaborating between all the band members. We’re starting to understand how it works and what the strengths of each member in the band are. I’m delegating certain roles and not doing everything.

Was the great experience of Nick DiDia for the production part a strong asset for Karnivool to make this record sound bigger and being what you wanted it to be?

Yeah. The main reason we went with Nick was that we really wanted to try something different from with Forrester Savell again. We love the work we’ve done with Forrester in the past, but we just felt it was time to try something new. The idea of working with Nick presented itself about halfway through last year. It was one of the options. He’d moved over to Byron Bay from the USA, and he was working full-time out of 301 Studio, which is renowned for its drum room. We went to meet him, and it just made sense. We’re happy with how it came out. It’s a lot more organic and raw-sounding than the previous records. He really helped us kind of make decisions instead of laboring over things, cause sometimes we tend to be our own worst enemies, in the way we question and second-guess everything. It was just a matter of him saying: “That’s good, just do it and keep moving forward”. So yeah, we’re happy with the way it turned out. It’s definitely what we wanted, more like the sound of a band in a room.

The vocal melodies and the variety of Ian’s vocal tones make the record impressive on the vocal aspect. How does he come up with his vocal lines and interpretations?

Ian is very much a spontaneous singer. Sometimes it happens as a jam in a room, between all the band members. We record everything we do, we record all of our jams, and we file it on a computer system, under the project we’re doing. If it’s not a project, if it’s just a random jam, it goes in the random directory. When we think there might be some good stuff in the jams, we go back to the folders and find the jams. Sometimes you follow it through and see what happens. But most of the time, it’s myself and Ian sitting in a room. I’ll record something, then I’ll hand him the mike and say: “Do a few takes over this”. And he will do just that. It’s usually very spontaneous, just a bunch of takes. We work together, and I say: “I really liked this”, and we expand on that. It’s very much a channel that just comes through him. It’s usually not about the lyrics, but about the sounds of the words, and letting the music dictate the direction. Usually there’s a vibe, a feeling in the music already. He seems to understand intuitively where to take the melodies, and we roll with it. It’s often the melodies and the lyrics that give a song a lot of perspective. He’s not there a lot, but when he is, we do a lot of work with him. He leaves us a bunch of clues that give us an idea where the song needs to go. Sometimes it’s chicken-versus-the-egg sort of thing between music and vocals.

There are some more aggressive vocal parts on Asymmetry that hark back to the Themata album. As your first two albums were quite different, do you think that, in some ways, Asymmetry is where these differences kind of converge?

I think the aggressive vocals are still a lot different than the aggressive parts of something like Themata. It’s coming from a much different place, I think. If anything, it was our bass player who stepped up to the plate as far as the more aggressive vocals went. Some influences like Converge, or Neurosis – there’s kind of an essence in those bands that made its way through. It’s not something we feel needs to be in there. It’s almost like a bit of a spring cleaning: we don’t consider ourselves a metal band, metal is just one of our influences. I suppose it’s more of a punk-rock influence than anything. Jon seemed to step up to the plate; we didn’t even know he had a voice like that. “The Refusal” ended up to be one of my favorite Karnivool songs, I love playing it live. It just seemed natural.

Your music is very introspective, and that goes out on this record in very special structures and melodies. While writing, do you keep in mind the accessibility of your music to the wider audience, or do you let it go as it comes?

It’s never really a factor. I never think about whether a larger audience is going to like it. Obviously, we don’t want to alienate people, but the only thing we really think about is making ourselves happy, and writing music we love and want to play. Usually, that means challenging ourselves. The only thing we want is to be able to find new ground as a band, not repeat ourselves and do something new and fresh and exciting. As far as the accessibility goes, it’s something we feel we shouldn’t think about. If people like it, they like it. We feel like we’ve gone in the right direction so far. We find ourselves in an area that seems to be working. If there’s anything that’s probably more accessible, it’s the vocals, and that’s something a lot of people associate with. But you know, I listen to pop music as well. I’ve no problems with simplicity – some of my favorite music is that kind of music. We just have to do what sort of feels right, regardless of whether it’s accessible or not.

There is definitely a Tool vibe on this album, in song structures, time signatures and the way of singing, as it was in Sound Awake. Do you accept the comparison from observers or is it something that irritates you a bit?

Tool are an amazing band. They were a big influence, more so in the early days. I think it was the Aenima record that I really connected with. It really intrigued me. If anything, that kind of paved the way for us, in the sense that for a band, it defied conventions to write these epic songs that didn’t subscribe to a particular formula, or a conventional structure. Some of the esoteric ideas they deal with, the dark aspect of it, that generally intrigued us. That definitely played a big part in setting us off on a particular course, but lately, they haven’t been a big influence. The Tool thing happened quite a long time ago for us. But I’ll always have a place in my heart for Tool. Maybe not so much 10,000 Days, I didn’t connect so much with that record. But definitely Lateralus, and everything before then.

« I can trace back to one moment that started me playing music in the first place. […] That was hearing Nirvana for the first time as a teenager. I heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and I thought: ‘That’s what I wanna do!’. »

Is there a specific milestone or a striking element that led the band musically in the progressive direction? What did trigger such a musical evolution?

There’s not particularly one band, or one moment. It’s a constant thing, changes are constant. I can trace back to one moment that started me playing music in the first place, or really sparked my interest in music. That was hearing Nirvana for the first time as a teenager. I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and I thought: “That’s what I wanna do!” It all just flowed from there. I’ve always been interested in new ways of thinking, or certain ideas, kind of obscured from our day to day life. There’s been so many bands along the way, there’s been so many experiences that have helped us form who we are now, the direction that we’ve taken. That goes across the board for all the band members. We’ve done a wide variety of musical experiences. Put together as a whole, it’s formed Karnivool to this point, including our experiences along the way as a group of people. Touring, life and love, all that sort of stuff… It’s not one particular point.

Do you have any explanation for the big disparity between your successes in different parts of the world? How would you explain it’s harder for you to become a big band in Europe and play bigger venues there, for example?

I don’t know… When we released Sound Awake, that’s where things started to happen on an international scale for us. We’ve done a little bit of touring in the US for Themata, but not much. Sound Awake was the only that really kind of pricked ears around the world. Why it works in some places more than others, I don’t know. Europe seems to be working very well for us: we’ve been there a lot, and we plan to keep going back. Traditionally, Australia was not known as a place for our music at all; at least that’s what we were told. But then Tool came over and played these big shows in arenas, and I knew that was wrong. There was definitely a market for that sort of music in Australia. Then there was a band like Cog, we toured with them in the early days and now they’re doing big shows. We came out with the Themata record at the same time as they kind of broke in. Together we kind of proved that there is a scene for heavy, progressive music in Australia. India was a massive surprise for us, to be honest. We really didn’t expect to have a following there. Previously there weren’t many bands from Australia touring in India. It had been four or five years since bands had really been touring there, as far as I understand, apart from a few bands here and there. It’s amazing. That’s probably one of our most memorable shows. One of our top three memorable shows was the Mumbai show that we did. We travelled to a place we’d never been before, we never released a record there, and 10,000 people turned up and sang along. That was amazing. So yeah, that’s what we wanna do: we just want to keep travelling to new places, seeing the world and meeting new people, and sharing the live experience with them.

How would you explain your success in India, when your first concert there was in 2010? Do you think there is a cultural connection due to your Australian nationality?

I think the connection is definitely a musical one. I’ve no idea why it works so much in India. One thing we know is that this music brings people together, regardless of cultural connections. That’s one thing everyone in the world can agree on, it’s a universal language. The people we’ve met in India through our music, it was just like… You don’t think you’re from another country, you think you’re one and the same. You share a common bond: the songs and the music. It’s the only thing that matters. We really had an amazing experience in India. We’ll just have to keep going back, and do shows around the country, in places we haven’t been to before. We met amazing people in India. It’s not cricket we have in common, it’s Karnivool! (laughs)

How would you describe the Australian rock and metal scene nowadays? Do you think there’s a high potential in new Australian bands coming out?

Yeah, definitely. I know Dead Letter Circus have gone and done some shows in India. They’ve been travelling around Europe and the US as well. There’s a big scene starting to form, anything’s possible. Generally speaking, it’s a striving music scene down here. Music is an important part of our culture, as it is with some other places in the world. Yeah, it is something with a lot of potential. Hopefully, more bands will keep coming out of the woods and draw attention.

In the global rock scene, would you consider being Australian as an asset or a liability?

(laughs) Probably both! I don’t know! I like to consider it as an asset. We try to be on our best behavior, but it wouldn’t be our best behavior if we weren’t kinda Australian wags. I guess it can be a liability in that way. We like to think that we’re… When we represent Australia, when we travel abroad, to some people, we might be the only Australians they meet, so we want to leave a good impression, you know. (laughs)

Interview conducted by phone on August, 9th 2013 by Metal’O Phil.
Questions: Amphisbaena.
Introduction: Spaceman.
Transcription: Saff’

Karnivool’s official website : www.karnivool.com.au

Album Asymmetry, out since July, 19th 2013 via Density Records

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