KHANATE is the newest band from Stephen O'Malley, that he founded together with James Plotkin in autumn 2000. Together with drummer Tim Wyskida and Alan Dubin they released an absolut intense album in 2001, where tortured cries collide with the music's low-end and each note is used to create a forceful brutal impact. But Stephen is also involved in a lot of other things, so we had enough to talk about and the result is this highly informative interview. Thanks a lot, Steve!
Hello, Steve! After I have done an interview with Greg last year, it's very nice to welcome you in this little online zine. Let's start with your new band KHANATE. Is it a "real" band or is it more like a project for you?
Its as "real" as anything else I'm involved in. We do manage to rehearse and stuff like that because we live in (almost) the same city. Contact is a bit more regular than some other things I've been involved in.
I like to talk about the name KHANATE. Is it maybe inspired from the Mongolish culture and, if so what does the name mean?
You are correct in your assumption. In the 14th and 15th century the Mongolian dynasty of Khan proceeded to conquer much of central and eastern Asia, the middle east, and parts of eastern Europe. This dynasty included such luminary cultural icons as Genghis, Kublai and Ogodei. At one point during the latter's reign this monarchal government controlled the largest area of land ever by a "single" member our species, even to the modern day. This country / government hybrid under a ruling Khan was known as a Khanate. This is the reference I am alluding to.
Is there a kind of concept behind the music of KHANATE ? For me personal, the music and the lyrics are nihilistic in some way, but it's more spiritual instead of destructive. What do you think?
For me the music is pure structural experimentation and blatant attempts at uneasy mood alteration through dissonance and temporal slack. I'm not entirely sure that there is true nihilism present for myself, as it has less to do with the physical state which produces nihilism and more with personal abstract exposition.
How were the recording sessions for the album ? Are all tracks recorded in one take ? I think, it isn't easy to capture this special vibe over a whole session.
We tracked the entire album in our rehearsel studio over the course of 2 months or so, live on a Roland VS-880EX. Afterward we moved the information to James digital production set up and he made rearrangements and adjustments to various elements. The vocals were done in James' appartment studio and added later, along with the effect treatments and other production elements. We took the final result to Mathias Schneeberger in Los Angeles for mastering.
I think, that there's a difference between your new band and BURNING WITCH. Especially James Plotkin and Alan Dubin are adding a new musical depth to your riffs. There are elements, that are very close to the early OLD (vocals and effects). How did you met both guys and how would you compare both bands?
I met James at an ISIS show in New York last year through Dave Witte. James introduced me to Alan later. I wouldn't want to compare any of our prior work to KHANATE, although there are some similarities when viewed in that type of perspective, of course. This band is an entirely new chemistry to what we we have attempted in the past. Everyone carries experience and taste from one instance to another so if you follow someone's work over time you will start to grasp at some of the actual characteristics which make up their personal creative process.
You've also worked together with Hydrahead-label boss Aaron Turner (ISIS / House Of Low Culture). What kind of sounds have you created with him and will this musical relation continue (maybe in form of releases etc.)?
Aaron Turner, James Plotkin and I started LOTUS EATERS around the same time as James and I started KHANATE (autumn 2000). We have met several times for recording sessions up in Boston at Aaron's House of Low Culture (aka House of Low Temperature) and have been quite successful as far as putting together audial ideas. The music we have made might be described as abstract cut up and sound assemblies with drone and tonal frequency palettes. To me, LOTUS EATERS stands away from verbal language in many respects, the chemistry, the sounds, the visual, the processes of creating, so it's a bit harder to summarize. I would feel comfortable as describing LOTUS EATERS as contemporary surrealist music. Aaron and I recently co-released the LOTUS EATERS "Alienist on a Pale Horse" 12" on my label AJNA and the HYDRA HEAD subsidiary DOUBLE H NOISE. We also have a full length CD recorded and are working on the next move currently. Also, a 7" EP will be released by our good friends in Bremen, DRONE Records, sometime in early 2002.
Some people are describing KHANATE as a Doomband, but that's only one aspect of it. The songs are dark, slow and heavy, but I see your band also in the vein of so-called Avantgarde bands, that are mainly influenced from NAKED CITY ( "Length ' che" album) or the early SWANS, just to mention a few. Can you agree with me or what is your personal point of view?
I wouldn't hesitate to say that KHANATE has more to do with early SWANS or "Lengt ' che" than something like MY DYING BRIDE or SOLITUDE AETURNUS for example. I think KHANATE could easily be described as a Doomband, because of tempo and tuning but I also think that KHANATE creates something more unsettled and disturbed than one might expect form a "doom" band. For example, KHANATE has very little groove, if at all. At this time KHANATE's time structure is generally not in the blues realm, which is a fundamental difference, and which also could explain that bridge you mentioned with SWANS.
I think, most of the readers will know that you're also playing in SUNN O))) and you were co-founder of THORRï¿½S HAMMER. Is it a difference for you when you play in KHANATE?
Yes, it is completely different because of the chemistry. KHANATE has a prerogative which is more difficult to explain than either of the other two units you mentioned. Something about stepping outside of myself and pushing ideas further than feels comfortable to achieve new, interesting results. No boundaries.
Today it seems, as if there are more people open enough for extreme and experimental slow heavy music. What is your opinion and is it important for you to reach the listener?
It's not really important for me to reach the listener. I hope it doesn't sound pretentious when I say that I'd rather think about it as laying something raw and honest down on the table and the listener can reach it however he can, if at all. It doesn't matter to me as long as it's the real shit.
For me, the music that you're playing has something very intimate and it's like a dark search for insight and deeper thoughts. It sounds very personal and spiritual. Aside of any music styles; what inspires you in life and is your music maybe something like a Katharsis for you?
Your question is rhetorical, and impossible to answer in an interview such as this. Inspirations come from everything a person encounters and experiences, the degree of which is the difference I suppose. Probably the strongest inspirations to anyone would be love, loss, fear, hope, growth. Beauty and repulsiveness ?
It must be interesting to visualize this kind of music in form of film sequences or maybe as some kind of soundtrack, although every listener has an own kind of "film" in his mind while listening to KHANATE. Have you ever thought about this idea?
Yes. Alan Dubin is a video editor and is currentlly working with a cinematographer on a KHANATE piece. I am unsure of what stage it is in but I believe it is for the track "No Joy" It should prove very interesting and disturbing. The visual / audial axis is one of the cornerstones of any musical experience I believe, whether in or outside of the listener's mind eye.
Are there any chances for a European tour of KHANATE in 2000 (oh, pardon!/ Klaus) or 2001? Have you played gigs in the U.S. this year?
It is impossible for 2000 and 99% impossible for 2001. With the events of the world as they are, as well as the ways KHANATE participators are committed to things in their lives, it's going to make touring difficult, period. However, we have begun performance in NYC during November and also have discussed a European tour together with SUNN O))) and THRONES for sometime in 2002. Nothing is settled however.
You must be a very busy person, Steve. You are playing in two bands, you are responsible for the whole SL-artwork and some other things. Are you doing any kind of regular job, beside all the other things?
Yes, I work on staff at a Manhattan advertising agency as an art director. I am very busy but this is what life is for I suppose ! What else should one do with their energies?
Your passion for extreme music isn't really new for those people, who pursuit and love your work. When did this passion started and what kind of music you're into nowadays?
Art and music are two of the central pillars for as long as I can remember. I'm fortunate and proud to say that these elements are probably some of the most integral parts of who I am. So, in that respect I don't really consider any of these interest "extreme", as they aren't at all to me. I love music and listen to it as often as possible. Some things which have been pleasing recently (this week) are the BORIS / MERZBOW collaboration, old AIN SOPH material, Alan Lamb's amazing recordings of wind harps in Australia, JACK FROST, KHOLD, Galina Ustvolskaya's piano sonates, BOHREN UND DER CLUB OF GORE, Veljo Tormis's "Litany to Thunder".
You have done a lot of cover artworks in the past and present for different labels and bands, where you have developed your own drawing complex. One of the last example is the cover of the new SIGH album. When did you started with your paintings and what kind of technique do you use for your drawings?
Well, first of all, at this time, I am not a painter nor an illustrator. I use a computer for all of my design work and illustration, not my hands (well, directly anyway). Most of my album cover design comes from montages I make from found or stolen art, manipulations of found or supplied art or imagery sourced by some outside art but re/constructed into something more along my own characteristics and taste. The SIGH album used dozens of collages I made from illustrations of Tibetan sculpture and painting. All of the coloring and concept, as well as typography and design were by my own hands, but the actual source images were not. So, I am a visual scavenger / parasite at this time.
I think, that SOUTHERN LORD Records is not only a simple music label for standard Doom. Every band that you've signed is different from each other. Mostly, they have a main musical influence, but each of this groups have created an own characteristic sound. What is important for Greg and you, when you're want to sign a new band for the LORD?
Greg is the one to ask about this. SOUTHERN LORD is his label. I was more active in the beginning but by now my role is solely layout for the album covers. I don't really have much, if anything, to do with signing bands to SOUTHERN LORD. Lately I even passed the advertising and collateral design duties over to a colleague as I don't have interest in this any more. But that said, Greg and I talk about LORD stuff a lot and I think he respects my opinion about bands and such, as I do to him. I'm not crazy about all of the LORD titles but I do really like a lot of them, and I think they are each charismatic in a way that I don't see in many other labels. Without over estimating Greg, I think the most important aspect of his decision to sign a band is that he has to be stoked on the music first and foremost ! I think the label has a great identity and energy to stand beyond any of the bullshit that clogs the fuckimg music scenes.
Ok Steve, thanks a lot for this interview. I hope you will continue with your creative work. At least, maybe anything you like to say?
I think I've said enough for now. Thanks Klaus for the time and space. I sincerely appreciate the support, patience and interest in my work. I will continue as long as I am able. Stay morbid.