Tiwanaku's recipe for death metal | Aristocrazia Webzine

Of ancient cultures and cosmic fascinations: Tiwanaku’s recipe for death metal

Some bands are early bloomers: they get together and cook record after record after record in a handful of time. Some others, like Tiwanaku, take years to come up with one whole collection. But then they do release stuff, like Earth Base One (Unorthodox Emanations, 2022), and said stuff is so damn good, you know you have to crack them open with questions. And that’s exactly what we did: we dropped Ed Mowery (vocals, guitars), Sean Hairy Valentine (guitars) and Ryan O’Neill (keyboards) an e-mail, and here’s the answers they came up with.

Let’s talk about Tiwanaku, starting from the first thing that meets the eye: its name. How did you decide to name the band after the namesake pre-Columbian archaeological site?

Ed: I first read about Tiahuanaco, Bolivia in the book Chariots Of The Gods by Erich von Dänicken and in other similar books. I have been fascinated with ancient archaeology, alternate history, and Tiwanaku for many years. Make that 24 years. It wasn’t until I saw the specific spelling “Tiwanaku”, instead of Tiahuanaco, that I realized that that was the name for the band. At the time I decided I was going to start my own band when I could tell it was only a matter of time before Nocturnus would disband again. Just like I assumed that the other guys in Nocturnus were not interested in us continuing on as a band, they didn’t want to tour anymore, just record. I started Tiwanaku the day after Nocturnus was over for the second time in 2003. I promised myself I would never join another band after that. I never really did. I have helped friends with bass lines and things like that but I was done joining an already known band unless it meant something really significant. That’s why I started Tiwanaku.

I wanted to do things differently and that wasn’t going to happen in Nocturnus. I wanted to do more intricate and technical music and it was the guys in Nocturnus that wanted to slow everything down like it went on Ethereal Tomb. If I would have had my way we would have hired a more technical drummer and went back to the types of lead-rhythm guitars like they had on The Key album. Those rhythms that technically are shred leads on The Key was what attracted me to playing in Nocturnus in the first place. Nothing personal, but those guys didn’t want to do what made them a popular band anymore. That was another reason I left the second time. The way that Mike D, Sean and I played together was extra magical but it was squandered by no intentions of touring. Only recording. Most of the time we put in together was a waste. That was another reason I left that band. The great thing is all of that is in the past and being in Tiwanaku has been much more rewarding than Nocturnus ever was for me. Don’t get me wrong. I know my time in that band has helped people look at Tiwanaku but I learned a lot about what not to do in the music business back then.

And, while still speaking of easy-to-notice things, your debut album features tons of ancient culture details both on its artwork and between its lyrics. It’s a fascination you seem to like to combine with the cosmic…

Absolutely. We love all the subjects surrounding the unknown, other dimensional creatures, what is going on above and around our planet in space, in our planet’s waters, and inside our planet. I do have a fascination towards these subjects. Some people could call it a borderline obsession. You can see almost all these subjects on TV now. When I first started looking at ufo, the paranormal and the unknown, information was only found in books. I am always looking to the skies. People would be amazed at what they would see in our skies if they would uncork their heads from their butts and look up. I’ve had many paranormal experiences and sightings in our skies. I cannot tell you how many now. I have lost count, there have been so many. Same with paranormal experiences. My mother used to say I am a magnet for it.

Earth Base One was released by Unorthodox Emanations a lifetime after the band’s first inception. A lot happened over these years: how come it took you all this time?

I take 100% responsibility for things taking much longer than they needed to. There were of course members that quit or had to be let go along the way. The main reason we took so long to make the album happen was I had to address my orthopedic and autoimmune issues with my body. That may have slowed the band but I have never been more determined to push this band now. I am healthy again and we are ready to tour. We have already started working on our next album.

And you, Ryan and Sean: how did you end up on board with Ed?

Ryan: I met Ed in the early 2000’s through a mutual friend and drummer of Tiwanaku at the time, Keith Hurka. Keith is the father of Ryan and Liam Hurka, both former members of Tiwanaku and recorded the drums on our current album Earth Base One. Keith brought me and a guitarist, Dennis Warner, out to sit in and jam with Ed on some older tunes he wrote and just get a feel for what Tiwanaku was all about. After the loose audition I was all in and started rehearsing with Ed, learning the tunes and recording some demos with Ed and Keith Hurka for the debut album from Tiwanaku. Less than a year later Keith dropped out and moved on and so did Ed, back to New Mexico, to try again at getting the perfect and committed lineup. Here we are, 20 years later after dozens of players, finally keeping the momentum going and preparing to put our giant footprint on metal in 2023!

Sean: I was contacted by the Hurkas [Liam & Ryan, drums on Earth Base One] when Tiwanaku were in need of a new guitarist. The Hurkas and I have spent many years together playing the local scene here in Pittsburgh and immediately sparked a lifelong friendship. Knowing that I would love the music, they hit me up right away and that was a pretty awesome text to wake up to, ha.

Could you guys tell us more about the album’s creative process? Who came up with the core ideas and how much of the others can we hear on Earth Base One?

Ed: I wrote all the lyrics and I actually came up with the core ideas for the songs with the exception of “Today in Battle”, which was co-written by Michael Estes with me. Ryan O’Neill wrote “Falling Stars”. I wrote all of “Interdimensional” which is a dedication to the band’s former manager and my best friend, Brian “Progcop” Goldsmith (RIP). Brian tragically passed away in 2019. Sean wrote all the lead guitars, Ryan wrote his keyboard parts and Ryan & Liam Hurka wrote the drum parts to it all. Each one of them put new faces on these songs that I would have never been able to do myself. So although I may have come up with the basic ideas, this music wouldn’t be what it is without the rest of the band and their contributions to it.

Sean: For my leads, there were a few that I prepared beforehand, but some ideas just didn’t work once we got to recording them, so some were written while we were tracking them! Luckily my good friend Ben Auer was tracking me, which led to a very stress free, easy-going and fun experience.

What about those you worked with in creating Tiwanaku’s debut? How did you pick them up — from band mates to graphic designers to everyone involved — and how did you like dealing with them all?

Ed: We worked with a lot of great people and we hope to work with them in the future. We appreciate all of them and we had a great time working with all of them. Without these brothers and sisters of metal we wouldn’t be here today. Without Brian “Progcop” Goldsmith (manager) we would not be here today. Tiwanaku would not be a band but thanks to him we are still a band and will continue to be a band for many years to come.

Shane Mayer and Cerebral Productions in Pittsburgh was the recording engineer for the drums and the mixing/mastering (digital masters) engineer for the whole album. He was awesome to work with! His ear is amazing.

I recorded a lot of the raw tracking for Earth Base One myself with my own mobile studio gear.

Gabriele Gramaglia – Vinyl Mastering. He nailed the vinyl masters on the first go. Thank you Gabriele! They sound amazing!

Juanjo Castellano is the amazing artist that created the album artwork. Great artist and amazing man to work with. Juanjo continues to help promote Earth Base One. Such a great guy! We have Andrea Bosetti of Unorthodox Emanations to thank for that!

Tryfar Doom of Avantgarde Music created the layouts for the vinyl and CDs. Very good working with him!

Avantgarde Music’s new death metal division Unorthodox Emanations are who signed us and released our debut album Earth Base One November 4, 2022. Working with Mr. Andrea Bosetti and Mr. Roberto Mammarella has been great! They do what they say they are going to do. That’s a hard thing to find these days.

My Italian death metal guru brother Marco Santamaria is the person responsible for putting Tiwanaku and our label Unorthodox Emanations together. Thank you Marco! We love you brother! We owe it all to you!

Christophe Szpajdel, “The Lord Of The Logos”, and Nino Mejia created our logo. Amazing guys to work with! We all worked together to come up with Tiwanaku‘s bladed weapon logo. I love it! It reminds me of a Klingon Bat’leth.

Photography & video are by Ron Ludwig and Kim Rhoades, the “Ghost War” lyric video was edited by Yusif Aye and the “Swarm” drum playthrough video was filmed and recorded by Tony Blakk (Druid Lord/Massacre).

Ryan & Liam Hurka both helped make this album happen more than playing drums on the album. They contacted Sean Valentine to play with Tiwanaku, they let me crash at their place while I was in Pittsburgh recording the Earth Base One guitar leads and more. Without these two guys we may not have gotten the album done when we did finish it. Thank you Ryan & Liam! You guys are awesome and family! Love yins both innit!

Last one on Earth Base One, I promise, but this one’s a bit of a pain in the ass, beware. More than a decade in the making, a bunch of guests, a release through Avantgarde’s new death metal sub-label. In the end, are you happy with the result you got?

Yes, absolutely! For me personally, I am much happier with Earth Base One than any other album or recording I have done in the past. But you always wish there was something you could have done differently after completing a recording. We may still make some changes down the road when it comes time for a reissue but we are concentrating on new music and live appearances in the USA, Europe, Canada, Latin & South America.

Now I’d love to ask about your background, Ed. You’ve been around for a while, you’ve had your share of experiences all over through the 90s. What happened to your first band, Fallen Idols? Because it’d seem, your next project, Nocturnus, led straight to Tiwanaku.

That’s pretty much how it went. Fallen Idols was my first real band with its own original music. I started on guitar in Fallen Idols. We kept getting gig offers so finally I moved over to bass so we could play shows. We sounded killer as a three-piece death metal band. So that’s how it went. We made a demo and played a ton of gigs before disbanding in 1991. Just a few months after that I decided it was time to move to Tampa, Florida. I was set up to play in a band with a friend of mine that was in Tampa. Unfortunately for us it didn’t work out for our project. That’s a part of doing this and how this goes sometimes unfortunately. Luckily for me, a band of which I had just heard the debut album, The Key, was looking for a new bassist. Nocturnus had just finished their second album Thresholds and were looking for a bassist for their upcoming video shoot for “Alter Reality” and their European Thresholds tour. A musician I had just played with, Rob Soltis, knew Chris Anderson (Thresholds session bassist). Chris taught me “Subterranean Infiltrator”, “Grid Zone”, “Alter Reality” and “Arctic Crypt”. I had also learned a lot of “BC/AD” and “Lake Of Fire” off The Key on my own. So I went into this audition more ready than anyone else that had auditioned before me. A month later we opened for Nuclear Assault and a month after that we did a show with Confessor who was our direct support on the European Thresholds tour. We ended up doing the Mummified/Possess The Priest EP and splitting up not long after due to lack of interest from a couple key band members.

Nocturnus seem to have lived a discontinuous life — active from ‘87 to ‘93, than from ‘99 to 2002 —, and unfortunately Tiwanaku’s life doesn’t appear to have been easier. How’s things changed over the last 35+ years in the field of music? What’s the best changes you’ve noticed? And the worst?

Yeah, Nocturnus was always a rocky road no matter what we did. There was always arguing and disagreement from the smallest things to the biggest. Tiwanaku had its turmoil during some of the early stages of the band but thats all been overcome and put in the past. Drama is not allowed and we all agree. We were just together and had a blast playing and writing our next album as a band. It’s amazing what a group can do when they are all on the same page. Lately it seems the best thing to happen with music was Covid-19. Live death metal shows started to sell out in the USA a lot more often after they started letting shows happen again, after the lockdowns. The worst two things to happen to music in my time in music was the invention of the mp3. As much as everyone may hate Lars, he was absolutely right about Napster and the mp3. But good music and metal always prevails. Before that was how abruptly all the radio stations and MTV dropped hard rock and metal anything. 1991 was the year that all happened. It was terrible. But like I said metal has and always will prevail and stay the course of music. The biggest hurdle we have had has been 100% on my shoulders. Yes we have had members come and go over the years but the main reason is I had several orthopedic and health issues. Luckily now we are on the other end of all of that. I am ready and able to travel, tour, and play live shows with Tiwanaku.

Coming back to Tiwanaku: I hear next album is in the making. Last summer I’ve had a nice chat with Antti from Demilich, and his band is yet another majestic example of “waiting to release an album until it’s killer perfect”. Could you give us any detail about Earth Base One’s successor? What’s been cooking, for now?

We have enough music for our second album and part of our third album between all the ideas we have. Sean, Ryan, Gabriel and I have been submitting ideas for the album. You can expect an aggressive and melodic album from us next. We plan to turn the speed up in some songs, keeping the variety, and to have a more separated, crispy mix on the next album too. There is a lot cooking right now in regards to our next album. I can’t wait to reveal what we are doing, to everyone.

Sticking to your debut, your website says 2023 will be the year Tiwanaku will tour many places on the planet to promote Earth Base One. I’d say this sounds like a good question to end this chat with.

Yes, we are working hard to make live appearances in as many places possible in 2023/2024. The competition is at a high right now but that doesn’t bother me. Contact us on Facebook or via e-mail to book us. Thank you Aristocrazia Webzine! The questions were awesome! We look forward to touring Europe and eating in Italy of course.