Aside from Sleep, what bands first turned you on to the sound and what was your musical background before Elder?
At the time I first started getting into stoner metal, I had been on a darker trip for a while — lots of black metal, some doom, Viking metal. Our friend Adrian [Dexter] (same guy who did the cover art) had been trying to get me into stoner metal for the longest time and I just wasn’t getting it. I guess one day it just clicked — maybe the day I heard my first Church of Misery CD — and I started listening to some of the more standard bands of the genre; Electric Wizard, Sabbath, and some doomier stuff like Eyehategod. A few years later we decided to try cooking up some ourselves.
Describe the jump from the Queen Elephantine split to the self-titled. Did you change anything in the songwriting going into the album?
I think the self-titled album is a big progression in terms of songwriting and it’s obvious that our sound has moved You know they're young because he has his hood up. That's how you can tell.away from the sludge and picked up some more groove along the way. After the split came out I was really dissatisfied with the songs, something just didn’t sound right to me (other than the god-awful production). I guess you could say it wasn’t the music I wanted to be playing. So anyhow, we kind of sat down and said, “Where are we going with our music?” I think it was going to be either a move to a more stoner sound or to become more aggressive and darker, but being in the middle of the two wasn’t working. I guess my musical influences at the time got the better of me.
Right from the start, your vocals have that perfect Al Cisneros cadence that I keep expecting you to say something about a stoner caravan. At what point did you realize you wanted to handle the vocals and how long did it take you to refine that technique?
It was decided right off the bat that I’d handle vocals, even though I’d never done anything of the sort before (not counting a few solo-projects that hardly saw the light of day anyhow) but none of us are “vocalists” so to speak, so nobody really cared. I love Al’s monotone vocal stylings along with that Fu Manchu half-spoken-half-sung sound and I thought they fit our music as well, and though my vocals were never meant to be a carbon copy, they ended up fitting well alongside the aforementioned.
Do you see yourselves as more stoner rock or doom? Do you care? How do you feel about tagging the band one way or the other?
I’d consider us to fit better under the stoner rock umbrella, but it doesn’t really bother us one way or another how we’re classified. I don’t hear the doom as much, personally.
As the guitarist and vocalist, are you responsible for the bulk of the songwriting? Where do riff ideas come from? Is there a specific mindset you need to be in to write? What is the process like when the rest of the band gets involved?
I’d say I’m responsible for about 90 percent of the songwriting — either I work alone writing the songs and use the guys to bounce ideas off of, or we just jam on some ideas until they evolve far enough. The other guys of course help create the structure and revise everything. That isn’t to discredit their creativity or anything — I’m sort of a control freak in a band setting and we’ve agreed that things work well this way. Riff ideas sort of materialize out of nothing and everything; out of boredom when driving on highway or out of relaxation when walking through the woods. Whatever mindset I’m in reflects the sort of music that I write, so I wouldn’t say there’s a specific one I need to be in to do it.
Lyrically, aside from writing about the spiritually big and heavy, what do you look to for inspiration? Are you trying to tell a story, or is it more thematic than narrative?
Writing lyrics for me is really difficult, because I find the music itself a much more expressive outlet for my thoughts and feelings. I guess I’m not much of a poet. In some songs I take a narrative approach and try to relate my interest in the archaic themes of old literature and mythology; some other songs end up having more of a stream of consciousness type flow to them, but the common thread is that these topics, whether concrete or abstract, serious or tongue-in-cheek, are intertwined with the music. I hope that both words and music can unite to convey and intensify the feelings.
What is the “Riddle of Steel?”
Well, if you mean where does the term come from, it’s most popularly known from the b-list movie Conan the Next time you're wondering what it's all about, this is it.Barbarian based on the story by Robert E. Howard. The Riddle of Steel is that the sword is only as powerful as the hand that wields it. There’s a scene where Conan’s warrior chief father tells him, indicating to a sword, “There’s only one thing in this world you can trust. Not men, not women… this, you can trust.” In my opinion it’s an appeal to the inner strength and raw humanity in all of us which has been repressed by self-deprecating religious values, commerce and the materialistic culture it has spawned, and mainstream media with its brain-degenerating pseudo-entertainment. There’s not one thing in this world you can trust except your own intuitions and feelings. Of course, on the surface it’s just a badass line from a badass movie and I’ve definitely watched it too many times.
Do you see lyrics as a focus of the song or is the music central? Do the lyrics or the riffs come first for you?
I’ve only recently begun to think about lyrics are a very serious focus of a song. Until now, they have been sort of a side note whose main function has been to supplement the music (like I mentioned earlier). Riffs always come first.
Is Elder planning to tour?
Yes. We are hoping to do at least a few weekend tours soon, quite possibly with our friends (and now labelmates!) Black Pyramid. We’d also love to gear up for something longer, but we’re pretty broke.
About the artwork: Did you give Adrian an idea of what you wanted, or leave it entirely in his hands? The cover looks tailor-made for vinyl. Are you planning an LP release?
We left Adrian entirely to his own devices with the artwork and I’m glad that we did. We would sort of work together and he would let me know what he was thinking, and whenever I was writing new music I’d send it along as sort of a guideline. In that respect, I guess that was the idea of what we wanted — he gets his inspiration from the music and I thought it fit perfectly. As for an LP release, Electric Earth Records of Belgium has teamed up with MeteorCity for a limited edition release which we can hope to see in a month or two!
The album has been really well received in the reviews I’ve read. Where does the band go from here? Have you started writing new songs, or do you have any ideas creatively for where you’d like to see the band go for upcoming releases?
Yeah, I’ve been really surprised and thrilled at the (mainly) positive response that it’s been getting! We’ve been working on new songs and developing ideas since the album was recorded about a year and a half ago and I’m hoping by the end of this summer we can have a new album ready. Creatively we’ve been trying to focus on the “softer edge” of psychedelic music and develop ourselves as songwriters. I think Elder has its moments, but for me it’s not the kind of music which just blows you away because it’s so totally evocative and emotive… it just rocks, and that’s all it does. I think “emotionally” and maybe even “spiritually” heavy music isn’t dependent on walls of thick distortion and thundering drums, riff after riff after riff. It’s about dynamics and a sensitive ear to what fits where. Musically speaking, we’ve all got some maturing to do, but you can count on the next album being a significant step in another direction.