Friday, June 19, 2009

Phil Swanson Interview(Upwards Of Endtime, Hour Of 13, Seamont, Atlantean Kodex ,Vestal Claret)

A first for the MF blogpsot. A more recent interview posting! Since this interview is so long and in depth I'm presenting the first half of the interview here and the other half will appear in print in MF 6. This is an unpublished interview Phil did last year. Cheers to Phil for getting ahold of me and allowing me to post the interview. I've actually know Phil for over 10 years. At one point even partnering with him when we he was running his distro company Disclocator. Phil was an early contributer to my first fanzine Children Of Caine. Of course he's moved onto bigger and better things since. To that I say congrads Phil, keep those tunes coming!

Interview by Scott (

1)Scott: For those who don't know you, could you give a brief description of yourself and of the bands you are involved in?

Phil: I started this most return to metal with my band Upwards of Endtime putting out 2 very raw self-released CDs of 70s/80s influenced obscure HM/HR material that was a huge nod to the earliest NWOBHM bands. UoE eventually signed to Barabrian Wrath Records in Germany for its 3rd CD and has kind of been in perpetual hiatus since. UoE always had a very unstable and uncommitted line up and since I was becoming more and more involved in other more stable projects kinda fell to the wayside in the process. I started the occult metal band Vestal Claret as a side project that was to record 2 songs for the Unleashed in the Northeast vinyl compilation with UoE, Ogre and Blood Red but when time wouldnt allow the Vestal Claret songs were cut and they later released on the Atlantean Kodex / Vestal Claret split from Metal Coven Records Germany. Vestal Claret received a contract for a full record but when the pre-production demo was rejected I turned to Hour of 13 to recover my losses and brought the ideas of Vestal Claret to it (a very lengthy and detailed history of Vestal Claret can be found here: http://www. hellridemusic. com/forum/showthread. php?t=15151&highlight=vestal+claret). Hour of 13 was signed immediately and we released our debut in late 2007 on Shadow Kingdom Records. After a very public falling out with Shadow Kingdom we regained our rights to the debut and are shopping it again for reissue while we demo new material for the next possible record. We have 2 new songs recorded for a split with the final 2 Vestal Claret tracks for release on Metal Coven Records in the near future. I spent a brief time in the awesome German epic metal band Atlantean Kodex recording and releasing 2, 8+ minute songs which one appeared on the split with Vestal Claret and the other on the New Age of Iron vinyl compilation on New Iron Age Records. During this time I came upon Seamount online and became a big fan of their instrumentals and a kinship formed that eventually landed me the spot as singer for the German doom rock metal band outfit. We released our debut vinyl on the cult Merciless Records and free digital download titled "ntodrm" and are currently working on the follow up that will be released sometime in 2009 once again on Merciless. While working in the studio on the 3rd UoE records with bassist Fred Melillo of US cult prog metal band Legend who was producing our record I was writing a few songs with Bill Ladley (x-UoE) for a demo that Fred offered to to be part of which we recorded 3 songs of early 80s inspired heavy metal under the name Earthlord. These songs are scheduled to be released with the upcoming UoE debut reissue as bonus tracks. While Seamount is my main position and focus I have though most recently just finished working on a new demo with Cauldron Born guitarist Howie Bentley on a NWOBHM styled doom project.

2)S: Do you feel that working with different bands/projects/musicians allows you to exert all of your creative desires?

P: Yes and no... Of course working with different musicians will provoke different ideas but much of the bands I work with are somewhat related genre-wise, so whatever I do with one I can achieve with the other to some degree. Like in the case of Vestal Claret and Hour of 13 I was able to take all the ideas I had planned for Vestal Claret and easily translate them over to Hour of of 13. The music has a completely different approach and the vocal melodies have a totally different vibe between the two, but the concepts are identical. So creatively they come from the same source. Theres allot of ideas I can easily take from one band and put towards another but I try very hard not to do so they dont crossover too much. They all have the same voice but I hope that people can easily seperate them all as the people behind the music of each are wholly different animals all together. The main reason I started to become active in different projects was due to the fragility of the early projects. Upwards of Endtime seemed like it could end at anytime. No one but me took it very serious and it was very messy and raw musically so it showed through on record which was very frustrating. So I started to look for something more solid both musically and when it came to commiting to it. I was always looking for something bigger, better and stronger. I had a great experience with Atlantean Kodex but we couldn't get past the distance between us, they wanted a more live commitment that I couldnt live up to. So in that case the fault lies with me. Personality conflicts separated Vestal Claret and while Chad and I get along great in Hour of 13 we have other obstacles that tend to interrupt progress. Thats why I stand behind Seamount so adamantly, its has the stability I need. The security that I can always be creative and there will never be limitations. The boundaries of Seamount are much more broad and its always in perpetual motion. Thats what I have been searching for through all these projects. But in the more recent case of working with Howie Bentley of Cauldron Born in a new project it was for different reason, I was just so impressed by him and his approach to me when asking me to consider singing on his new project it was hard to resist. I respect him as a musician so much, such quality behind what he has done in the past. That and my role there is much more simplified as he writes all the lyrics and music. Stress free, I just do my thing with what is given. I may arrange some vocal melodies a bit but I dont have to think too much so I get to just lay back and enjoy the ride.

3)S: You mentioned that Atlantean Kodex 'wanted a more live commitment' that you 'couldnt live up to' . While Seamount has the 'stability' you need. I know that you are set to play shows with Seamount. This suggests to me that they are indeed more comfortable with the location differences, and are willing to base things around your schedule as well as theirs. Is this another reason that made you think of it as more than a side project?

P: Though Seamount is like Atlantean Kodex, another band from Germany and the equal distance between. Seamount never pressured me to perform live. It was all a matter of "in my own good time" so to speak. When I was good and ready, was good enough for them. Atlantean Kodex was getting offers to play big festivals right away and I just wasnt ready for that. I felt it wasnt time for me to go that route yet, they were moving very fast and I didnt want to hold them back from theyre deserved success. And when I committed to Seamount there was nothing more than the task at hand of writing music, live wasnt anything we were directly focused on. Just like with Upwards of Endtime. UoE was a local band with all its players in my own state of Connecticut and even we werent playing live. In fact through the whole course of putting out 3 records we only played one show and that was cuz Ogre was in town to record for a compilation I was releasing. I just have very mixed feelings about playing live. But most importantly what makes Seamount more than a project to me is the connection I have to the music even though I dont have any part in the writing of it. It is exactly what I would want to say if I was able to say it with music. I have written a large part of what was done with Upwards of Endtime and Vestal Claret, but its nothing like Seamount. Seamount is very kindred to me, its hard to explain really. Just all the elements of my musical interests are there and somehow I found it with someone on another continent. Tim and I seem to share the same spirit in sorts. His music speaks to me the same way my words speak to him it, thats something very rare. That is that "bigger, better, stronger" element and connection that I was searching for. And the live shows were actually set on my schedule, which made it such an easy decision for me to finally agree to play live. That and the closeness I feel to the music, this is something I can see myself on stage with at this time of my life. Ive seen metal come and go with all its pretense, its one thing to write and record a metal record and another to perform that record live and live up to its expectation. Atlantean Kodex and Hour of 13 carry that type of expectation. Im not a showman, I could never be like Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford or King Diamond. Im way to laid back to pull that off and if you dont do it right you just look like a jackass. But I love heavy metal music and I wont let performance art get in the way of making the music I want to make. Ill just make it the way thats right for me.

4)S: That's really an excellent attitude. While of course everyone is different, people need to discover that the performance aspect of metal in particular, isn't but a small aspect of the music at a whole. I've listened to "ntodrm" (I still need to get the vinyl) and I must admit that I can seemingly "hear" the 'connection' you speak. The tracks just sound so fluid (not just in the recorded sense). Your vocals, and the music that Tim has written really mesh together. It is hard to believe that both the album, and Seamount itself stretch across continents. How exactly did you come to be involved in Seamount (for those who might not already know)?

P: I came across Seamount on myspace, they had some instrumental tracks that really drew my attention. I felt something special about the music. The elements they crossover to make their sound was really familar to my tastes and musical background. It was a progression I felt of doom and downtempo rock taking it to the next level. Epic but not pretentious, heavy but not blatantly out of proportion, familiar but not obvious. They were looking for a singer and I offered my services to complete their demo so they could move forward as a band. It was just a temporary situation, I felt they needed to be heard in full effect and wanted to help get their tracks finished so they could be. But as well I was fan so I had some selfish reasons for wanting to sing on their tracks as I wanted to be a part of it any way I could. As we began working together they felt like it was something they didnt want to part with and we decided to make the commitment to full time. Something I was hoping for all along! Since then its been non stop, just constant writing and recording.

We have so many songs!

5)S: Seamount have made quite a lot of their material available either for streaming or for free download. Was there a reason for this besides perhaps just testing the waters? You also said 'its been non stop, just constant writing and recording.We have so many songs!', there is quite a lot of material out there (whether original or covers), is this a testament to your writing partnership?

P: The downloads and streams are mostly due to the fact that we have so much material we dont know what to do with it. So we make available to be heard until we can sort through all the tracks for more proper release. What has been heard so far is not even the half of what we have already on tape, we are so far ahead of our selves that we tend to need to put on the brakes at times just to ease up the progress. Both Tim and I are over-thinkers, always plotting and planning and while Tim's gears are at the forefront constantly turning, I just lie waiting for his next diabolical plan and follow eagerly behind with approval.

So yes I think it is a definite testament to our writing relationship!

6)S: Regarding extra material, I understand that the vinyl release of "ntodrm" comes with 3 extra tracks (as compared to the initial downloadable release). Were these tracks a product of the same sessions?

P: Not really, when putting together the vinyl release we realized that we were over the time limit for vinyl so either had to cut some material or make a double LP. We of course went went with the double LP and found room for more songs. So we were already continuing writing during this time and added some of these new songs to the vinyl release to fill both pieces of vinyl to the fullest.

7)S: Was there a reason to remaster the album for its vinyl release?

P: Oh yeah. To increase the audio quality to better suit the vinyl release. The digital release was way ahead of the vinyl, not pre-mature but definatly in the earlier stages. The vinyl release was a huge production and investment, no sense in short changing it in the end.

8)S: How has reception been to the vinyl release?

P: Very well from what I understand. This was actually Meriless Records first ever vinyl release and they have been in the business for quite some time but only done CDs in the past. I have heard a rumor that this was the fastest selling release they have ever had. Thats something I am very proud of as a fan of Merciless Records myself. That and the fact they are primarily a black and death metal label I think says allot about the cross over appeal of Seamount. There is allot more than just your standard doom in these grooves.

9)S: That's excellent to hear. Going back to you personally, do you feel that you need to utilize different vocal registers/tones etc to different your vocals in Seamount to your vocals in Hour of 13?

P: Not at all I let the music dictate my vocals from song to song no matter what the project. The guitar tone really determines where I take it. So if there is a difference between the two it is mostly due to the styles of the guitarists behind me. I dont think "Im gonna sing this way for this band and another for the other" but I do try to create a disconnect from song to song if I can. I want to have each song have its own feeling so as not to have too much of a set template and repetition. I dont have a strong range or particularly classic sounding voice so I try to add something different and give identity and style to each song to make up for my shortcomings as a vocalist, rather than giving the same performance over and over.

10)S: That really shows in each song. One song that I feel has a very pronounced vocal identity to it is "Missing Girl" from Hour of 13's debut. The vocals really fit the mood of the song and nature of the lyrics. Was it a challenge to come up a feeling that suited this particular track?

P: Not exactly as when I started writing material for that record (actually the Vestal Claret record), I knew full well the intention and concepts I was going for. I wanted to create a truly confused and misguided character and write from a first person accounting. On the new songs written for the next record I revisit some of the thoughts and ideas of this character especially on the song "Possession" and expand more on his history and motivation with "Soldier of Satan" and even as well on "Naked Star". I kinda just separate myself from reality and not think about consequence too much so I can freely express some truly dark and evil ideas. Taking allot of influence from 70s Alice Cooper (note: Dead Babies) and movies like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer among other things.

11)S: Do you feel that this character has any defining merits and/or motivating factors that you plan to explore in future. Would you also consider this character to form part of a lyrical concept (if loosely tied)?

P: Most definatly, as I said he has already made his way onto the split trax and into the new full length. And his concept is the platform of what created Vestal Claret and Hour of 13 lyrically so it would be hard to completely waiver from that context and still keep the foundation intact. Venturing off these ideas may take the songs too far off their intended path and hence no longer be what was the motivation of this type of project in the first place.

12)S: Regarding the new full length, how far into it are you and Chad?

P: Chad is further into than I. While the lyrics for the first record were written in advance of me receiving the music this time the lyrics are written after the music and after I decid upon a vocal melody. A much more ideal approach as now I dont feel as if I am forcing ideas. Just letting them flow. This should really be obvious on first listen in comparison to the debut I hope. We work very independently of each other. All I know is I am receiving about a song a week and there are plans I think for a late Spring release...

13)S: The debut sounded very well put together (to my ears) but I can understand what you mean. How do the music/lyrics sound in comparison to the debut (I know you've mentioned "Naked Star" but do you feel your lyrical themes have progressed or stayed within the same realms?

P: I like the sound of the mixes and prefer them greatly to the debut. The debut was produced, the new recordings have a truer more raw and classic sound I think. And I hear the same from people who heard them which lets me know we are going in the right direction here even though its a half step back. I thought I was gonna progressed into something more epic and huge, maybe down the road I still will. I have ideas around evil, the occult and its influence on war but now that Im already into the concept for the new record it seems to be continuing its path. Simpler in some aspects but bolder in others. Following the path of "Missing Girl" and "Call to Satan". But having songs like that already in place has allowed for more confident lyrics this time around now that the outline is in place I am free to expand on the idea. But once I take this idea as far as it can go I plan to venture to some more progressive and obscure.

14)S: I will agree there (the tracks for the split, if they are representative and "Naked Star" do have a more 'classic' sound to them, in my opinion). Would you consider the album's lyrics an expansion on the first album's lyrics as a whole, or just moving ahead from the songs you've mentioned?

P: Oh defiantly an expansion as a whole as most every but one song from the debut are connected to the concept that continues onto the split and second record. Still following a desperately disturbed occultist in his quest for power at any and all costs.

15)S: Would I be right to assume the song from the debut you're referring to is "Grim Reality" (It never struck me as having a connection to any other track from the debut)?

P: Actually the song I am referring to is "the Correlation" which is about the Illuminati ties to 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Grim Reality" is still loosely based on the others same concept re-telling Hansel Gretal for a modern age where the predator uses the internet to seek out his young and naive victims.

16)S: Ahh. Now that you've said that I do see it. That goes to show that interpretations are subjective. Do you think that you'll write lyrics that continue along from those in "the Correlation"?

P: Oh yes that goes into the "something more epic and huge" category I mentioned that may reoccur down the road. This was the first concept that came to mind when I was contemplating a second Vestal Claret record. But when the first record never came to be these ideas drifted a bit.

17)S: As a whole would you consider Hour of 13 to be a logical progression from your ideas for Vestal Claret?

P: Not rand yes as Vestal Claret was a much more progressive project with much broader influences. Hour of 13 is more regressive in nature, more retro or through back to some degree in comparison. Musically Vestal Claret would compare more to Seamount in that way. But lyrically most definitely, having Hour of 13 as a more decidedly metal sounding band does make in much easier to explorer the darker side of things.

18)S: Where do you feel Hour of 13 'fits' lyrically? Would you consider it more akin to the occultist lyrics explored in the 70s and 80s or to the modern paths explored today?

P: 70s and 80s but not akin to the lyrics of that time as most of my influences lyrically come from occult exploitation film and television of that era. Of course bands like the original Alice Cooper group, Black Sabbath, Angel Witch, Ritual (UK), early Running Wild and Stormwitch were very instrumental in influencing me on this project, I only borrowed the term occult for my direction conceptually but not lyrically. I try avoid the more common subject matter like the Satanic Bible and the Necronomicon. I want to live up to the Christian fear as it is in place and capitalize and exploit it as much as I can. I want to shock religious sensibilities, something that has become more and more difficult now that occult and black metal have become common place. How do you get back to that time when songs like Alice Coopers "Dead Babies", Mercyful Fates "Nun have No Fun" and Covens "6669" actually shocked the shit out of you? Its not that easy when we’ve gotten to the point of were black metal has become almost mainstream...

19)S: Definitely. There were times when corpse paint/the whole black metal aesthetic looked genuinely frightening (case in point: Dead (of Mayhem/Morbid.. R.I.P) but now indeed it (as has black metal as a whole) has become something that anyone with an internet connection can access. Going further back, I imagine that Mercyful Fate/King Diamond would have carried quite the aura. Even further back, the song "Black Sabbath" would have instigated quite a fright amongst people who heard it around the time it came out. Of course, that is far from black metal but it carried the same effect. I think now something needs to be truly underground, unaccessible by those who don't know how to/choose not to access it to genuinely scare people. Perhaps one of the scariest things about black metal nowadays (at least amongst trend followers) is when they can't read a band's logo. Do you find that people who truly understand this sort of music understand what you're talking about when you mentioned that your influences "come from occult exploitation film and television of that era"?

P: Im not exactly sure? Its not my intention to tap into someone else understanding. Its just where I come from and what provokes my motivation. Its something that has always peaked my interest even as a young child. This bizarre underworld of occult activity portrayed in campy movies and shows. I wrote a song for Upwards of Endtime called "So Mote It Be" based on the movie "Racing With the Devil". Thats the idea here, a far fetched reality where Satanist run amok and are looking to steal your children, seal your souls and wreck your world.

Live with Seamont In Germany

Phil With Selimof The Devils Blood Germany

Phil And Chad Hour Of 13

Live In Germany


Scott said...

Name's Scott, I originally conducted this interview with Phil. It was originally uploaded at the webzine I work for but I don't think it was posted for long, something I feel that was undeserved. (I'm not even sure when it was posted/approved!)

Thanks for giving it the opportunity that it deserves!

Mental Funeral Zine said...

Thanks Scott! Great interview conducted by yourself.

Scott said...

Thank you! Thanks again for the opportunity!