bismuth interview

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exploring the edges of the musical universe

One of the heaviest bands at this year’s Incubate edition was the English duo Bismuth. This band creates a massive wall of doom, using only drums, bass guitars and deep, guttural vocals. Their slow, low-pitched music reminded us of acts like Winter or Asva. When we wrote the Incubate review we joked that we were too scared to ask them for an interview. Shortly after we got an facebook message from Tanya (bass, vocals) telling us they weren’t that scary. So we took advantage of the opportunity and asked her a few questions.


How did you feel about your gig at Incubate?


The gig at Incubate was simply amazing. It is amongst one of the best gigs I have ever played.


Did you see any of the other bands?


I saw a little of Wovenhand at Midi, and then all of Ortega's set at V39. Goat and Current 93 were on my list, but after we finished packing up our equipment, the queue for Goat was too long. We also wanted to see Skullflower, but, as is the case with festivals, you bump into friends and time runs out somehow.


You were one of the most heavy bands on the festival. For people who don't know the band yet, how would you describe the music?


We have been described as "like Stone Henge, but music" which is pretty accurate. We are slow, drawn out and worship feedback and drone.


Doom, drone and sludge are on the rise these days. Where do you draw inspiration from?


I've always had an interest in longer forms of music. With drone, especially, one can get lost in the sound. Nothing else exists. Using feedback as an instrument also holds great interest … seeing how long a note can be drawn out while still being somewhat musical. I'm inspired to experiment to see how much can be achieved by a two piece and also its limitations. It's interesting that there is an increase in the amount of bands doing this kind of music. Perhaps it's a group of people that grew up listening to similar things finally maturing as musicians and finding their feet?


As for bands, are there any other bands that have an influence on your sound?


ASVA are very important. They were the only band who I had to leave the room for when they were playing, as it was too loud and it was physically hurting, even with ear plugs. I always return to their recordings, as they always give something new, after all of this time. Om are also an influence as they showed me what could be achieved by a two piece band.


As a two piece you can really stand your ground on stage. Are you looking to go even heavier or do you think you've reached the limits?


There are still ways to gain a more layered sound, but whether or not that will make it heavier, I am unsure. We've not reached the limits yet though.


What made you decide to be a two piece?


A two piece band just seemed simpler somehow, for many reasons. Before Bismuth started, I decided that to have the musical freedom I needed, two of us would be enough. Guitarists and separate singers seem to overcomplicate things.


We noticed Henry has a distinct way of drumming. It sounded almost industrial at times. What kind of background do you both have musically?


For the Dutch shows, Henry actually filled in our usual drummer Joe, as he was in America at the same time as the tour. Henry plays in Moloch and another band we both play in called Nadir. Weirdly enough, we are both classically trained musicians - Henry on cello, and myself on clarinet and piano - who then started doing bands. Henry was originally a vocalist but then started teaching himself drums, which contributes to his heavy and aggressive way of playing. He was the logical choice to cover these shows, as he just hits the drums really, really hard.


Does your classical background translate itself into your bass playing?


To an extent, I think.. The classical musician in me always thinks about layers.


Let's talk about lyrics. What are they about? And at one point I thought I heard you use a clean voice as well as grunts. Am I correct?


There are two main themes that seem to creep into our lyrics. One is of a more personal nature, a way of dealing with what happens in life. The other is about the vastness of the universe, how our existence is really nothing measured on the scale of space time. I study planetary science and the scale and scope of geological time is breathtaking. It makes my worries seem insignificant. I do indeed use clean singing on occasion.


Any plans for the future? Is there a new release coming?


We are currently working on an album and The Eternal Marshes is to be rereleased onto vinyl.


What can we expect?


As well as bass and drums, we have been discussing about introducing some other elements such as noise electronics and a track that is just guitar and drums. We have one song written already, which was the second we played at Incubate. We want to experiment with different instrumentation, while still keeping the core of bass and drums. It will be heavy and hopefully quite unnerving.


I bought a 12" split at Incubate. Was it Bismuth's first release?


No, Tartarus records put out a cassette of "The Eternal Marshes" but it has long since sold out. When we were asked to do the split with Undersmile, we knew that we would complement each other so we jumped at the opportunity.


Will the next album be on Tartarus as well? And how is it to work with them?


Hopefully, if they like it! It is excellent to work with Tartarus Records. Richard, who runs it, has been extremely supportive of this band and all my musical endeavors. I really couldn't ask for a better person to release our music. Richard organised our Dutch tour and I really can't thank him enough for everything he has done for Bismuth.


About the name, it sounds German but it seems the be a chemical element. Where did you get if from?


It was something that Joe suggested. It is indeed a chemical element. For years it was thought to be stable but it's actually now known to be radioactive, with a half life a billion times the age of the universe. We thought that fact suited our sound, as we play so slowly.


Finally, is there anything you would like to add?


I'd just like to add a thank you anyone that comes to watch us, buys a record or shirt or has supported us in anyway over these last couple of years. It means a lot.