Here we are with Don Anderson, guitarist (and organ player) for Khôrada, a new project created together with Jason William Walton, Aesop Dekker, and Aaron John Gregory. We will talk about their first release Salt (2018, Prophecy Productions) and some other things as well.
Hello Don, and thanks for having accepted this interview, we are glad to host you as one of the first interviewees on our new website, launched just this month after weeks of hard work and following almost a decade of activity in the Italian scene.
Thank you very much for the opportunity.
At this point, pretty much everyone knows who you guys are, and how this band came to be, so let’s just not talk about your previous bands and let’s focus on what the four of you have accomplished here. How have you dealt with the writing and recording process, considering all your other commitments and well, distance?
It wasn’t all that different from Agalloch because even in Agalloch we were often separated by distance, and most of us had other obligations with family and careers. So, that didn’t really change. We still sent riffs and songs through email and gradually built the demos over a number of revisions until we were ready to rehearse and then record.
I must admit that, mainly for work-related and personal reasons, I did not have the chance to fully appreciate Salt when it first came out this summer. Fortunately, I managed to go back to it in October and listen to it many times and in different environments. Don, this record is sick, and I must say that it has grown more and more after each listen. Which were the elements you personally enjoyed the most, as a musician facing a new challenge?
I think all of us, but maybe mostly myself, Aesop, and Jason, appreciated the chance to completely start over. It felt liberating in a lot of ways. Even now we have to sometimes remind ourselves that we don’t have to “look a certain way” or play in a specific key or tempo that was common for Agalloch. Even something as simple as smiling in a band pic is new for us. But, the most rewarding part was simply starting from zero. We had no idea what Khôrada would sound like. We knew we wanted something big, beautiful, and epic, but when we asked AJ to work with us, we really had no expectations. So, it’s really incredible to us that we managed to pull this off. It was a real experiment, but it has worked really well so far.
I know you guys, especially Aaron, don’t really like this record being called “prog metal” or “avantgarde metal”, how would you describe it to someone who hasn’t listened to it yet?
I don’t mind the “prog” label, but I woudn’t call it progressive in the true sense of the word which is usually used for bands like King Crimson, Yes, and many of the 70s era bands from Italy like Locanda delle Fate or Banco del Mutuo Soccorso. We’re nothing like those bands. But, certainly we have a progressive spirit in that we wanted to push on the boundaries of the genres we’re part of: metal, sludge, doom, or whatever. Even if we referred to bands like Yob, Neurosis, or Fugazi while writing the record, we don’t sound like any of those bands. I still think there’s some Agalloch in the sound, obviously. I love multilayered music and long songs. That’s just who I am as a musician. It’s big, it’s expansive, and melodic. I’d use words like that rather than “genre” words.
Ok, I guess we’re done with the webzine-like music-related questions. Time to move to something more interesting: the concept. After having followed your work for years (I even wrote my Master’s degree dissertation about its environmentalist undertone, and literary influences, back in 2011-2012), I would say this is perhaps the most clearly political record of your career. Khôrada started working on it between late 2016 and early 2017, so we all know what the climate was (and is) like. Could you please give us more details about how the idea and concept came to be?
Yeah, Agalloch was never political. And our interests in the time were purely aesthetic and all about appreciating where we were from in the Pacific Northwest area of the US. But, there was never a political aspect to that appreciation in the sense that we were activists in any way or promoted awareness of corporate pollution or climate change, for example. But, with Khôrada we felt we could do whatever we wanted. So, when we discussed possible themes for the band, we were in the beginnings of the Trump-era and it felt irresponsible not to reflect on our anxiety about the direction of the US. So, yes, in a real way this is an anti-Trump album, but I do think it’s deeper than that, but it’s a record that could only have been written during the Trump-era. And all of us have roots in politically charged punk rock, hence the Rudimentary Peni cover [in the “Luxus edition” of Salt]. And as a professor politics is something I engage with my students about. So, it felt very natural to be overtly political at times, while still trying to keep a poetic and allegorical aspect intact. AJ is brilliant at balancing metaphor and imagery with direct political commentary. So, we are all incredibly pleased with the lyrics and imagery.
It was intriguing to see Aaron’s oceanic and fluid style come together with the rest of you, plus the many collaborations by other musicians (and visual artists) from all over. What was the effect of this collective approach on the final result and on you guys?
Well, again, it wasn’t that different from Agalloch. I’d write a riff, or John would write a riff or a whole song and he and I would just build on that together. John had a different but complementary style and that led to the sound of Agalloch. AJ has an even more different style, but again, the two of us seem complementary — at least as evidenced by the final product. But, we didn’t know if we would be. There were times when AJ would have way more “groove” in his riffs and songs than I ever would. But, once I added my own parts, everything was really balanced. The song “Ossify”, for example, has a very “stoner riff,” but once I placed some harmonies and clean tone over it, it turned into something else entirely. I think that’s the key to collaboration — that the whole is greater than its parts. Me and John were responsible for the sound of Agalloch, which is why Pillorian sounds nothing like Agalloch. And, I would say the same for Khôrada which sounds nothing like Agalloch. I think both bands have a little bit of Agalloch, but again, the collaborations are different and therefore the sound and direction of the two bands are different.
Were there any particular writers, artists, or thinkers that have influenced this work? In the way for example Thoreau and Emerson have in the past.
AJ would have more to say about this since he wrote the lyrics. But, I associate those writers with Agalloch. Thoreau continues to be a huge influence on me. But, with Khôrada I would say, for me personally, it was the Marxist theorists like Mark Fisher who is quoted in the booklet, as well as writers like your own Antonio Negri and his collaborator Michael Hardt. For me Marxist theory is about maintaining and continually updating a critique of capitalism and, in many ways, Salt is a critique of capitalism more than anything. I think Thoreau is certainly part of this conversation, but in a very different way. So, I’d say I was looking at a different philosophical trajectory that started with Marx/Engels, through the Frankfurt School, and finally to current critics like Fisher, Benjamin Noys, Wendy Brown, and Cornel West. These writers have more in common with Khôrada than the American transcendentalists.
How did you decide to use Khôrada as the band’s name?
It’s ultimately a made up word. I wanted to call the band Khôra, but it was taken—as was most names we came up with. So, my wife said to just add “da” to the end. It sounded cool and looked cool, so it was as easy as that.
I know that you will tour the Western US with YOB, can we hope to see you in Europe as well at some point next year?
We are still looking for a booking agent for Europe, so if anyone is interested please contact us through Facebook or the website at www.khorada.com. I’d love to get back to Europe, but even with regards to booking agents and crew, Khôrada are starting from zero.
Thanks again for your time, it was a great pleasure for us to exchange a few lines with you. Is there anything else you would like to say to our Italian (and international) readers?
Yes, thank you for the support! I’ve said it in many interviews, but I am a longtime fan of Italian cinema and Italian progressive rock. I love to visit Italy and it’s been a real pleasure and an honor to meet the Italian fans and talk about these things with all of them. We hope to return in the future. Ciao!