"It’s difficult to find much particularly inspiring in metal"
"One chapter ended for another to begin and this one seems really promising for the extreme metallers"
Akercocke are a great chapter among the extreme metal bands. They were inactive for 6 years, but this year they came back with a new album in 10 years - and what an album it is! On this occasion we contacted Jason Mendonca, frontman of the band. During a very pleasant talk, he elaborated on things about the band, their new beginning, the past and future, as well as their new album. Read it all below.
Hello Jason. It is our first Akercocke interview, so please feel free to share a brief bio of the band with our readers.
Akercocke were born in London in 1997 by David Gray (drums) and me (guitars/vocals). Back in 80's we had created Salem Orchid together. Five albums followed: "Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene", "The Goat Of Mendes", "Choronzon", "Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone" and "Antichrist". After the release of "Antichrist" the band started to gradually fall apart. In 2006 me and David and Paul Scanlan (guitar from 1997-2005) decided to play together again. The result were some shows and the release of "Renaissance In Extremis" from Peaceville.
"I suppose the key difference is that this not a satanic record at all. We’ve covered all that needs to be said on that front with our previous albums"
You have a new album out since summer. In my opinion, it is the best of your career so far. Really great work. Congratulations. It is somewhat more accessible to listeners, like a more extreme Opeth record. Was it something you intended to do? Broaden your music?
Thank you for your kind words. We try to make each album different from its predecessor. It keeps things interesting for us as writers and players. There was no contrivance to make the album audibly more accessible. It just turned out that way. We don’t have a “vision” of how an album will end up when we start writing. The process is much more haphazard and chaotic. We tend to start from a point simply with an intention to make music we find exciting and stimulating to play.
Is there a certain theme on "Renaissance In Extremis"? Is this the resurrection of Akercocke in another form?
Not really. The album covers lots of subjects in its lyrical content. I suppose the key difference is that this not a satanic record at all. We’ve covered all that needs to be said on that front with our previous albums. This album provided an opportunity to cover new territory both musically and lyrically.
"Believe it or not, there is a lot of humour in what we do, even if this is not apparent in our output"
How were the recording procedures? Any funny moment there?
There were plenty of funny moments. The drums were recorded in a studio in Suffolk by our dear friend Steve Long. We took the drum recordings to my home where Paul and I laid down all of the guitar, bass and keyboard tracks. The two of us laughed almost constantly throughout the process. Believe it or not, there is a lot of humour in what we do, even if this is not apparent in our output. Paul and I encouraged each other to make certain elements even more abstract and absurd than some of the original ideas. Often citing obscure references that would make little sense to anyone outside of our frankly childish world. In summary, I have never had so much fun making album as we did last time. I hope our next recorded venture will be equally as mirth-filled and amusing.
One of my favorite songs on the album is "Insentience". It is an instant hit. Very melodic, very aggressive and powerful. Please share me some more info on that song.
"Insentience" is a weird one. Unusual next to the rest of the material. That’s because all of the other songs had existed in one form or another for quite some time (years) before recording began. The working title of “Insentience” was “Murmur.” The working title was appropriate for this reason: I live in a small apartment with neighbours upstairs. Their bedroom is directly above mine. I had a number of nights when I awoke in the middle of the night with a riff in my head. I grabbed my cell phone and murmured the riff into the voice recording app. I had to do this very quietly so as not to disturb the people sleeping upstairs. About a month before recording began, I listened to all of the strange noises I had recorded on my phone and translated them into guitar parts. When I recorded them and put them all together, “Insentience” was born. Maybe I need to stop eating cheese before bed or something. I have weird, musical dreams. Actually, perhaps I ought to eat more cheese in the hope that more songs create themselves!
"I don’t have a naturally deep voice so with the instruments being in standard, concert tunings, I was able to employ more of my natural register"
Does the song "One Chapter Ends For Another To Begin" show that Akercocke are moving to another level?
I don’t know what you mean by another level. I view this piece as I do any other Akercocke song. It’s just a collection of disparate influences that coalesce into a song. I’m pretty pleased with it. I got to use my voice on the last album in different ways. This was mostly because we put the instruments in their natural tunings as opposed to down-tuning for a heavier sound. I don’t have a naturally deep voice so with the instruments being in standard, concert tunings, I was able to employ more of my natural register.
The video of "One Chapter Ends for Another to Begin" is a fine form of art. What is the concept?
Thank you! The concept is very simple if somewhat uncomfortable. The song is about coming back from the brink of suicide. It’s about someone who plans to end their life but then finds the strength to continue. A song of hope if you like.
What can someone find in the deluxe edition of "Renaissance In Extremis"?
Lots of stuff! We are really, very pleased with the book. It contains lots of photos from throughout our career. A lengthy interview with David and myself that gives deep insights into the band that we had not previously shared. There’s a ton of bonus material on two CDs in addition to the new album. There’s a live recording of our first ever performance as well as ambient tracks and cover versions.
"I was very ill towards the end of chapter one. I simply couldn’t give what was needed for the band to carry on in a positive way"
What were the reasons behind disbanding back in 2012?
We didn’t really disband intentionally. It was a gradual process. I was very ill towards the end of chapter one. I simply couldn’t give what was needed for the band to carry on in a positive way. The other members of the band carried on making music in my absence and a number of excellent bands were born. Most notably The Antichrist Imperium, Voices and Shrines.
I was in a difficult, but pleasant position when trying to describe your music. Is it death metal with progressive elements or progressive with death metal elements?
Hahahaha! I laugh because when I was discussing the mix with Neil Kernon, I said to him: "Neil, you know the last albums you mixed for us were death metal with prog rock bits? Well, this one is prog rock with death metal bits." I think he did us proud. It’s a joy to work with Neil because he "gets" Akercocke totally. It’s a very easy and happy working partnership.
"I love folk music regardless of geographical origin but with a particular leaning towards Crete and Turkey. Classical music with a big nod to the composers who use / used the twelve tone scale"
Which are your main influences outside death metal?
Wow! What a question! I’ll start with the bands and artists that we all love: Killing Joke, Voivod, Rush, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Agnostic Front, Lalo Schifrin, Frank Zappa, Billy Cobham, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Japan and Dead Can Dance to name but a few. Personally, like all the members of Ak, I have extremely, eclectic tastes. I, like the other guys am a music fan. I take influence from artists as diverse as Arvo Part, Arif Sag, Psarandonis, Mehmet Erenler, Mahsuni Serif, Ross Daly, Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Bochum Welt, The Mover, Mescalinum United, Ed Rush, John Martin, Gentle Giant and a man called Bob Stewart. Bob Stewart made an album on Argo Records in 1975 that is perhaps my favourite record of all time. Perhaps it would have been easier to stick to genres rather than artists. I love folk music regardless of geographical origin but with a particular leaning towards Crete and Turkey. Classical music with a big nod to the composers who use / used the twelve tone scale. Fuck it! I could be here all night. We love any music that is good, regardless of tiresome, genre labels.
"In the '80s, '90s and '00s I was a committed, LaVeyan Satanist. Now I am not. We don’t just dip in and out of philosophy in the same way one might change clothes"
It seems like you left behind the satanic image and lyrics, and focus mostly on subjects that are more personal. How did you decide to make that turn?
It was quite simple. We are not the people we were ten years ago. Ten years of life has been lived since. It seemed natural that we should cover some new lyrical themes. To carry on with our fantastic, Hammer Horroresque, occult themes would have seemed disingenuous and possibly resulted in us becoming a parody of ourselves. In the '80s, '90s and '00s I was a committed, LaVeyan Satanist. Now I am not. I cannot speak for the others. I can say however, that we don’t just dip in and out of philosophy in the same way one might change clothes. Many lessons have been learned throughout our lives and certain infernal ethics are as relevant today as they have always been. It’s just not so important to shout about them anymore.
"Greek people are very passionate generally in my opinion and they make their presence felt"
What are your plans now? I see that you play small tours around UK promoting the album. Are you going on an extensive tour?
We are planning a number of international festival dates for 2018. We hope to tour Europe in the same year. We haven’t made it out to visit our European friends and family since 2005! A visit is long overdue. I am working with our management team to ensure our future, foreign travels cover southern Europe in particular. We played Greece in January this year and it was a real honour. Our Hellenic cousins made us so very welcome. It was a tremendous pleasure to have the opportunity to unleash the Akercocke power-blast for them at last. Greek people are very passionate generally in my opinion and they make their presence felt. The Greek metal fans are really into their music and playing for them is nothing short of superb.
You played with Mgla, right? What are your memories from then? How possible is a return here?
Dude, it was literally awesome. The fans were queuing round the block in Athens. It was crazy. We had no idea that Akercocke had so many fans in Greece! The support bands were fucking great too. A big shout out to our brothers in The Dead Creed and Mgla. Thomas “The Wizard” Sidinalsa is a living legend. If you haven’t seen his show, get off your arses and go see it. Thessaloniki was equally off the hook. The Eight Ball Club is a great venue. It was fantastic after so much great food and killer shows to get drunk with Mgla. They are cool guys and their band slay live.
"Putting bread on the table for our families always comes first. It’s more a case of fitting the band around the rest of our lives rather than the other way round."
Do your everyday jobs conflict with the band?
We always prioritise work above all else. Putting bread on the table for our families always comes first. It’s more a case of fitting the band around the rest of our lives rather than the other way round. I guess we make the best of the holiday time we have to do the most we can in terms of live performances. In terms of writing and rehearsal, we still meet three times a week religiously. We are phenomenally lucky to have our own rehearsal space. We never take this for granted. As a result, we can leave our equipment set up all the time which allows us to meet up and make noise on a very regular basis.
"People who aren’t infected by notions of form and training often express the most interesting ideas"
Do you listen to new music? A lot of artists seem to prefer listening to older bands and music, but still creating music that sounds modern.
New music is a curious term. New to me or new as in very recently released? I have no fucking clue about most contemporary music be it metal, pop or whatever. I tend to get turned on to new music through friends. I heard an album this week from 1972 that was new to me. I also listen to Grime and Drum and Bass that are ever (like most others) evolving genres. I am open to everything. If it’s good, I’ll listen to and enjoy it. I don’t care where it comes from or how it’s categorised. Life is too short for that kind of bullshit. If music touches you in some way or makes you think or reflect, even if it’s technically bad music, then learn from it. Some of my favourite music is made by non-musicians. People who aren’t infected by notions of form and training often express the most interesting ideas. I find metal in general a genre in which it’s currently difficult to find much that’s particularly inspiring. Maybe I have my head in the sand like an ostrich. It’s a joy however when I do hear a band that I haven’t come across who are doing something really good.
So, in order to end the interview feel free to make a statement to our readers and fans of Akercocke.
Big respect to the Greek metal massive! We hope to get back to your great country soon and share more intense experiences. Sas efcharistoume para poly!