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Not so long ago we got to know Austrian band Mountain here on Aristocrazia, together with their debut album "Evolve", an eccellent experimental post-rock oriented first release. We asked them some questions about the album and the band's future and guitarist Phil kindly answered in detail: let's have a look, there's a bunch of good stories here.
Welcome on Aristocrazia, guys! How are you?
Hi! To be honest, I'm quite tired! The last few months were pretty stressful, we had a lot to do with the release coming up, but it was absolutely worth it! So yeah, we feel very good thank you!
Tell us something about you: who you are, how you met, how and why you formed your band… you know, the usual biographic stuff we like so much. Don't be shy!
Oh, so you want a bio? There you go: my name is Philipp, I started to record myself playing my guitar many years ago as a way to get ideas out of my head. Somehow those ideas became songs and somehow these songs found an audience for themselves. Back then I was playing in my old band called Cellardoor, we made music for almost 10 years together, but we had to stop because everyone was busy working or studying in different cities. This let me down, to say the least, so I started to focus more and more on the songs for my Mountain project, but never felt the urge to start a proper band. Two years ago the whole situation with Shunu Records started and my girlfriend back then suggested me I should get off my ass and start a band. She also introduced me to Chris, the piano player, and Dominic, our drummer! It was incredible how fast we clicked together and became friends!
Let's talk a bit about your creature, "Evolve". It was a pleasure for me to listen to it, you did a very good job and I deeply congratulate you. As I said in the review, the graphic element was the first thing that caught my attention: well-finished, nicely drawn and strongly evocative, congrats to whomever took care of it. Do you think our world can survive such a fusion of nature and technology development?
First of all, thank you so much! It's always a pleasure to hear that someone likes our work and pays attention to the details! The wonderful artwork was done by Andi Rensen Aguion, also known as StillAKid, an artist based in Germany whom I found through Facebook. His art truly struck me because I loved the way he brought the eerie and creepy feeling into a comic-like style without feeling pretentious or forced, and he's also a big movie-nerd like me, so we connected right away. He agreed to work on the "Evolve" artwork and he did a marvellous job. We sat down to talk about the design and more and he nailed it at the first try! That was even way back before I started the band, so we were just two guys in love with art, doing it just for the sake of it. You asked if the world can survive such fusion and I have to say yes, I do think the world itself can survive this. This planet and Nature themselves will always find a way to survive, but it's us human beings who might have a hard time surviving if we don't start accepting the fact that money and the newest smartphones won't help us once the resources we need to survive will be gone.
Is the conquest of the world by man and his machines completely negative or is there any silver linings?
The conquest of man and machines is, like life itself, a coin with two sides. Of course there are brilliant, marvellous things that machines have done to/for us. Of course technology has become an incredible part of life and I'm amazed every day about how it keeps going. But, again, there is also a dark side about it: people tend to quickly disconnect from nature and this breaks the balance. I won't dive too much into this topic, as I don't want to sound pretentious myself! I'm one of the most horrible persons I know regarding living in a balanced way, maybe that's why I am so fascinated by it.
Another image that's still printed on my mind is the man side by side with the bear. They experience together, in one of the pictures of the booklet, the rise of technology; they contemplate then the sun from the top of a mountain, like they belonged to the same species. What's the meaning of these drawings in you view?
Oh, in fact, that is one of my favorite pictures from the artwork! Although I don't want to spoil anyone's point of view on it, I will give my very personal description. I am a heavy dude. I love to eat and back when I was a kid I hated to work out, thus I became heavy. There were times when some kids made fun of me, of course some children do stuff like that. That made me a pretty sad kid, so my mother always tried to cheer me up by telling me «you are a bear». This became some sort of a mantra for me, to gain power against the people that made fun of me. Up till this day I keep telling myself «I am a bear» whenever I need power or strength. So, back to the picture, it's like the last one of this story, the «everything will be fine moment» if you will. "Mondo Kane" is our silver lining, it's the last song of the record, our most hopeful song. I like to see it as the bear in music, you know? If your own inner kid is trying to get you down, spin this song, look outside, realize again that life can be beautiful and you can make it. But, like I said, that's just my personal relationship to this picture. I also like to see it like this: in the end, we're all the same.
Musically speaking, how was "Evolve" born? What's your personal interpretation of the album?
"Evolve" was born in a time when I needed to change a lot of things about my life and myself. So you could say the album worked as a reminder for that. On a musical side instead, I wanted to write music that is beautiful but also heavy. Again, balance. A little anecdote: one of the first songs I wrote for "Evolve" was "Mondo Kane". The main riff itself is quite old. Back when my grandfather, who was also a musician, died, my mother asked me if I wanted to play a song at his funeral. I remember when I started playing "Mondo Kane" in the church all the people became even sadder, crying and drifting away in grief. I wanted to get them back, you know? I wanted to scream «don't be sad, maybe he's dead, but he'll live forever with his music, in our minds and hearts», but all I had was my crappy guitar, my crappy amplifier and not enough self-esteem to do so. So after that day I've always envisioned "Mondo Kane" as this song that could punch you right in the face with its beauty, so you can feel its power even if you feel sad. Now that there's a whole band I feel like we made it, we accomplished it. It's really become that song that has the punch to silence everyone, but also, to some extent, to heal. At least for me it feels like this, and it's always interesting to talk to people after a gig, hearing them talking about the song and how they felt about it. So, back to "Evolve", it kind of built up around "Mondo Kane". The record gets pretty dark at times, heavy, unpleasant, but with "Mondo Kane" ending the album I wanted to express a feeling of hope after all. Just like with life itself.
Would you define it as a concept album? If so, what story would it tell?
Actually, there's again a story, a concept if you will. I'm always cautious when talking about it because I love if people come up with their own stories, but since I was so open in this interview I could give you a brief summary of my own story around it as well. So, the album opens with "Hawking": I envision the main character (let's call him X) waking up somewhere on the ocean floor. Surrounded by the dark, the cold, not sure how he got down there or who he even is. During the runtime of "Hawking", X tries to reach the surface of the ocean. The power of the sea pulls him down, releases him again, he knows he's drowning, but he has to get up there, no matter what. The end of the song, when the music explodes, is the moment he gets out of the water.
Then, on "Stugor", X reaches the beach, he's surrounded by a dense forest. He sees a mountain in the distance and somehow he knows he needs to reach it, so he starts to run. The deeper he gets, the thicker the woods become and start to hold him back, so X needs to use all of his strength to chop through the branches and the darkness. The heavy end of "Stugor" symbolizes the break through the last bit of the dark forest. "Verminest" starts when X finds himself at the feet of the mountain he was trying to reach. With the beautiful, yet eerie mountain-wall standing in front of him, he looks back to the forest, to the ocean. Staying there wouldn't require any energy at all. He could just lay down and rest. But X feels like there's more, and it must be on that mountain top, so he begins to run again.
"Deeds, Grammar And What You Make Of It" begins. X runs up the mountain, unstoppable, nothing can hold him back, he feels like a child again. However, "Ahram" hits him hard once he reaches higher ground. Thunders, lightnings, the pure force of nature seems to turn against him as he fights his way further up to the mountain. In the second part of "Ahram", when the melody gets quieter, he falls down. His strength is gone. He cannot go on any further. He looks back again, disappointed because he could not make it. He even seems to remember a bit of his past life, before he woke up in the ocean floor. Memories of himself as a child seem to bring strength back to his body. As "Ahram" grows bigger and bigger in the end he continues to run, even though the weather gets harsher every second.
"Savage Landor" plays almost entirely in his head. The eerie beginning is some sort of a requiem to his past self, it goes straight into a sad part that seems to not change, just to vanish into a creepy sound. Suddenly, a heartbeat. Hope starts to rise. X seems to realize he almost made it to the top. He can look at himself and at his life proud again, because he didn't give up.
On "Mondo Kane" X made it to the top. The harsh weather is gone, he can see the ocean, the forest, the mountain as a whole, and he becomes one with all of it.
This is a quick summary. Of course, this works kind of like a fairytale; if you switch to the reality you can see this story as the journey of a person that is fighting inside his head. The ocean, the forest, it all sort of works as an allegory on different thoughts and walls that sooner or later in his life one has to climb inside his head.
I crowned "Ahram" my personal favourite song from the record, but I also loved the development of "Savage Landor" and the quotes you put in it: "Dying Speech Of An Old Philospher" is a love declaration to Nature; while "The Cure Of Troy" spreads a message of hope and the idea that there's a God listening to «the outcry and the birth-cry of new life at its term». What kind of relationship do you have with Nature and most importantly, what's your interpretation of the idea of "God"?
To me, Nature is God. God is Nature, although I don't want to call it «god» as I feel like a lot of stupid people have hidden behind this name in order to justify the most atrocious actions. But I also think everyone can believe in anything they want, as long as they don't try to force me into becoming a believer. "The Cure Of Troy" works in many ways in terms of poetry. Seamus [Heaney, author of the poem "The Cure Of Troy"] was deep into Ireland's drive towards independence, and while the main goal of "The Cure" is to re-tell the story of Odysseus tricking Achille's son to join the Greek forces in the end of the Trojan war, it was more of an allegory on hope and a reminder that one of the tasks of art is to help us manage pain, not simply to chronicle temporary euphoria. So, even though he mentioned God, it's more about «no matter what you're trying to achieve, stick to hope and you'll never be alone in this».
Does each of you have a specific favourite song from "Evolve"?
Yeah, I mean, even though there is not a single song we don't like to play, everyone has of course their own favorite. Dominic's one is "Hawking", Chris loves "Verminest", Kathe adores "Ahram" and I always enjoy "Stugor".
How did your relation to Shunu Records begin?
To be honest, I cannot really remember it anymore, somehow they were searching for new artists and we started talking about it. At first they thought Mountain was a band, although I was still alone at that time. But the guys at Shunu had obviously seen something in my music and they wanted to work with me. All around great guys! I feel like in our time and age record labels get a lot of shit. I mean, sure, there are those shady blackmailer labels that just want to take your money and leave, no questions about it, we all know these stories. But still, labels like Shunu are so committed to their work, it's incredible. Everyone puts so much work into it, it's always nice to see people with so much passion!
How do you like making music? Are you the kind of guys to improvise in the rehearse room or do you prefer writing songs in a more systematic and solitary way, maybe in the silence of your room?
I mean, with "Evolve" I had all the songs written but badly recorded so we had blueprints to follow while we built the songs further. All of the guys are masters at their instruments, so I couldn't give them technical tips or anything, but I had a clear vision and the guys knew that, so they listened when I said «let's try this different» or «hey, try to play something more like this». After all, Mountain is my baby but I'm always open for ideas from the guys, otherwise it would become a drag for them to work with me, and the music can also become more organic this way!
What are your main influences?
We all come from different backgrounds, so there is a lot of influences… for me though, the biggest influence are movie soundtracks.
Your Facebook page seems quite stuffed with live concerts. What's the live music situation where you come from? How was your music received so far? Most importantly, are you planning to play abroad, too?
Oh, is it?! Well, we try to play as much live as we can, although that is not easy in Austria! So far I think people seem to really like us live, from the heaviest metalhead to the post-rock old-schooler, there seems to be something in "Evolve" for everyone! Of course we want to go as far out there as possible, currently we are working on a German tour starting next year, after that we are trying to work our way around Austria, getting further and further! I would love to go to the North, Sweden, Norway, etc., as we have played up there back with Cellardoor and honestly I had the best time of my life!
Speaking of live concerts, I read on your Facebook page again your live and studio formations slightly differ. How come?
Yes, our former bass player Greg, which is one of my best friends and whom I played with for many years prior, had to leave the band because he's got tinnitus. So he recorded the bass on the record and after that Claudio jumped in on the bass. It felt like letting a good friend go, to get another good friend in. Those two are some of the finest people around and I am very happy to have them in my life! Also, in the beginning we were two guitar players, but the other one dropped out soon after we had finished the record. At first it sucked quite hard, but now we feel like this was the better outcome after all! For now we will stick as a four-piece band!
What about the future? Do you already have something in store for "Evolve"'s successor or do you prefer playing and promoting it around at the moment?
Honestly, both! We have some pretty nice gigs coming up with Tides from Nebula, Spoiwo, Trepaneringsritualen and Caronte, which we are looking forward to very much! In the mean time I am writing new songs, so there's already a lot in store for "Evolves"'s brother.
What do you do when you're not practicing/playing? What does a typical day look like for you?
Oh wow… I mean… we usually love to hunt down virgins to sacrifice them to the one and only Cthulhu. Sometimes though, we like to set paper planes on fire and throw them at trains. I like to go into other people's homes at night and roll all their toilet paper down. But I mean, no, we usually work, as everyone has a job since all the riches we're doing thanks to Mountain are devolved to Cthulhu's cause.
Good, that would be all for now. Thanks for your time, let me know whenever and if you're coming to Helsinki! This space is yours, you can tell anything you want to our/your readers. Have a nice day and good luck!
Thank you so much for listening to "Evolve" and caring enough to ask some very good questions! It was a pleasure and we do hope to come to Helsinki as soon as possible! Alright fellas, listen up. The stage is mine now. I can say whatever I want. Listen: you need to get me out of here. Someone is in my house. I don't know how long I can wait — oh my God, he's coming, I need to go, send help. Please. Oh wait, nevermind, it was just a mirror! For real, thank you so much for reading, have a good day! Worship Cthulhu. Love, Phil.