Saturday, May 4, 2019

A Ripple Conversation with Obsidian Sea

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?
Oh, I don't seem to remember having a single major eye-opening moment when it comes to music. I mean, I grew up as a pretty introvert kid so instead of going out I was listening to music alone at home. Because of that I wasn't very influenced by what the others listened to and even knew.
My parents used to listen to things like The Beatles but they weren't major music fans – I remember we had some tape cassettes by Queen or Dire Straits lying around and I also regretfully liked a bit of Bon Jovi at one point.

But what changed things for me was actually this book about “Heavy metal music”(kinda) with Ozzy on the front cover (and King Diamond on the back) full with absolutely ridiculous descriptions of bands and articles about them as something strange and mystical and dangerous. So I took an interest and started buying those cassettes  of Black Sabbath, Dio, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden etc. I mean – world famous bands, but to me it was new and felt like a personal discovery.

And mind you, living in Bulgaria, meant that we were years behind in terms of information and availability of bands and albums. So This is how I found out what I was really looking for in music. I must have been around 12 years old at the time.

That said, I've been having minor epiphanies all the time since then as I don't like listening to a lot of music at a time, but actually spending months just being immersed into something that I find inspiring. That way I miss a lot of stuff that comes out, but I can still be pleasantly surprised by bands and albums other people have known for years. I kinda like it that way, to be honest...

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?
There's no specific routine really. Usually we start from a small segment, a single riff, progression, whatever, but it must capture a certain mood, that would make us want to explore it. It's almost inspiration by accident often times. It works like that when we rehearse together, but also when I write alone. I try to come up with these “starts” or “accents” and then we figure out the rest together.
But it really boils down to that initial “special something” and from there comes the concept and lyrics of a song. I often keep these very vague and abstract “things I want to write a song about” floating inside my head and then just wait to see where the music would take me.

Of course, this doesn't always work, but being pretty slow in writing new songs, we almost never discard finished tunes. If something doesn't feel right we just never force it.

Who has influenced you the most?
I really can't say for certain, the list is too long and you probably know all the names anyway. But if I have to mention a name – musically – I'd say Paul Chain (in his various endeavors) has been a big influence. Not necessarily as something I try to copy as a musician, but more in terms of his approach to music, which is idiosyncratic and weird and totally personal. 

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?
Experience, of course – everything that you live through and leaves a mark could be inspiring as long as you truly live it – the good and the bad – and it's that experience that is expressed back into music (in this case).

Also, I guess I've always felt very natural being in a state of observation, just contemplating – this is to me a true active experience of things even if it may seem like not doing much. So I try to capture these moments and then everything – all that which is at the very edge of the banal - could be inspiring and give you an idea: a phrase I hear, a certain view, a color, a fragment of a dream, etc.
So those states of being are where inspiration comes from and a song, a book, a film, a drug, whatever else – those are doors that could lead to there.
So not a small part of what motivates me is actually the fear of losing that ability to view things in that way and to remain directionless.

We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?
Well, I remember when I was little, my grandmother used to take me to these long walks to the outskirts of the city or even of my old neighborhood, where there were still traces of rural life and also nature yet to be tamed by buildings, roads and so on. So I used to lose myself there and within my imagination. That and the frequent trips to the mountainside which is not far away. So you can say that I was more inspired by being away from the true “city life” into these little islands all for me to explore.

But it's not just about escapism of youth, I live in the capital and it's a city that's steadily losing its grace in favor of getting shinier and more intense and more crowded, and  mundane etc. and all that to me carries a sense of melancholy and of distance. I think it has definitely left a mark on the music we make. 

Where'd the band name come from?
I thought of it as a marriage of two images: the sea and the sky at night. It's not supposed to have some exclusive meaning or a concept behind it, just that abstract presence of those two realities that I just feel somehow connected to when making music. It may not make that much sense when you try to explain it, but it doesn't have to, I think.

Anyway, I've seen quite a lot of bands named “Obsidian-something” after the fact, but we're not changing it.

You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?
Ha, never thought about it, but maybe a slow and dreamlike story, that's not an easy viewing. Maybe something like “Aguirre” or “The Seventh Seal” or even “Picnic at Hanging Rock”.

You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?).     You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?
Well, off the top of my head, maybe something by Rush – let's say the obvious choice: 2112. I love how the story unfolds and how they try to find musical phrases and sounds that correspond to what they're telling. And the lyrics could take a bit of critical interpretation. Funny thing is, I happen to have a master's degree in philosophy so I might be right for the job, who knows?

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?
Believe it or not, but we haven't had many of those.

I remember that one time, we did a very low profile show in a town in central Bulgaria. We brought our usual gear etc. and it turned out it was this very small underground bar: the stage was so small we barely fit. The PA was no good, so we decided we would just turn everything way up. Of course it was a disaster, especially for the locals  (we actually had a good time) who had absolutely no idea of the kind of music we were playing and they looked just like some random guys. I noticed that halfway through the second song they all went outside (but politely not leaving until the end though?!) watching through the glass door, turned out they were complaining the music was so loud, they couldn't stand it... Afterwards, one of the guys there even said we were the loudest band he heard live!

Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans?   
I've always thought that our music was introspective and introvert in a way and  in the early days of the band I was unsure as to how well it would translate into a live setting.

But I grew fond of it over time. To me personally, being on stage is a painful experience, not just pure entertainment and that's exactly what draws me to it.

I think the intensity of our music and live performance is more of the internal kind, so there's not so much direct interaction with the audience but rather a more distant but deeper, hypnotic connection.   

What makes a great song?
The feeling and conviction you put into it. Honesty, in other words. A good song to me, is a good story, a journey and a gripping atmosphere. And that can only happen if you really have that attitude and you could put yourself int that state – no matter how simplistic or weird or over-complicated the song might be. And all the technical aspects and “rules”and “tips” are just tools that enable the better telling of that story in an engaging way.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

The first song I ever wrote must have been some very primal and ugly black metal-ish song, I wasn't even in a band at that time and I could barely play, so it was just me, a cheap guitar and a cassette recorder. It seems like forever ago, but come to think about it, it's been only around 16-17 years since then.
What piece of your music are particularly proud of?
I don't think I can answer that question, really. Everything I've written and played is Рto me Рflawed but also personal. So, what I feel is fulfilling is the fact that we are still able to make music with inspiration, with a sense of discovery and meaning. That said, I always believe that what we're working on now or have just finished, is the best we've done. And it's the most clich̩ answer, maybe, but if you don't think like that, what's the point?

Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?
Well, as I told you – I'm not always up to date with what comes out now and often find myself more interested in discovering bands from 40 years ago that I didn't know about. But there's always good music to be found around if you look for it. So, not strictly from the last few years, but some of the new or at least active today...

I've always admired Slough Feg for their songwriting – just outright exciting heavy metal/hard rock with attitude and more than a bit of strangeness (which I love).

Also – Ogre one of my favorites ever since I've heard them – power trio done right with great songs, engaging and fun with just the right balance of the ridiculous and the serious.

I always liked John Gallo's bands and I'm very happy that Orodruin seem to be back. Last few years I've spent lots of hours listening his other project Blizaro, especially “Cornucopia della Morte” from 2016) and love it for it's bleak twisting nature and the nod to the Italian giallos' soundtracks.
Probably the album that I really, really loved in terms of having great songs and atmosphere that really grabbed me was Blood Farmers' “Headless Eyes” from 2014.

And for new albums I've heard the past year, I liked  those by Acolytes of Moros, Messa, The Skull,  Night Gaunt... I know I'm forgetting some, but I'm really, really bad at making lists, sorry.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

   It has to be vinyl. However I have lots of music on CD and even more in digital format. Generally I always try to get physical copies of albums I really like, but it's a much slower process that I want it to be, so I digital is a necessary compromise in the meantime.

But I just can't help saying that when I was a teen still discovering my taste, the only format we knew was cassette tape.

Whiskey or beer?     And defend your choice
I'd refuse neither, but I guess I'm more on the side of beer in that contest. It gives me a nice little buzz and can keep me company almost constantly. Plus it's pretty versatile – there a type for any weather, situation or state of drunkenness you're after.

It goes something like this: beer – all the time; a good whiskey – for pleasure and then if we're really serious about drinking – strong homemade rakia.

We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?
Oh, I think you'll be disappointed, to be honest. There are a couple of places that sell records, but they are mostly playing it very safe with the titles they offer.

What's next for the band?   
Hopefully the summer will see us do some touring in Europe. We might be able to announce something on that front soon enough.

Other than that – keep doing what we believe in.

Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?

Don't let the Music leave you. Keep your hearts and eyes open.

And thanks to you for the fun and challenging questions!

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