Persistence of memory by Phil Stiles
It’s difficult to describe our music, I tend to write according to what I feel rather than to any particular genre, so defining the album in a single sentence is pretty much impossible. It’s been interesting, actually, to see the reviews where we’ve been called everything from post-metal and progressive to alternative and grunge because I guess I could agree with all those labels in part, but I wouldn’t say any one of them accurately portrays the whole album.
So, yeah, putting a label on it is hard because it’s so varied and because everyone who hears the album seems to take away something different from it, but I guess if I were to try to pin down my intentions, it was to take the dark conceptual elements of latter-day Pink Floyd, the heavy riffs of Deftones and Tool and the melancholic harmonies of Alice in Chains and Anathema and put it all into a blender. However, even that fails to take into account a song like ‘Alone’ which has that disturbed, ‘Holy Bible’-era Manic Street Preachers vibe to it.
I guess the writing process very much feeds into that – I don’t write to order, so to speak. Rather, I get something in my head and then I have to get it recorded because otherwise it just keeps going round and round in my mind (annoying) or it vanishes forever (worse). In other words, when I go to record a song, it’s very much a snapshot of what I am feeling at that moment, both lyrically and musically, and although the music is then refined as the rest of the band starts to work on it, it’s rare that a demo changes much from its original form. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but ‘Failed Light’ was particularly fun simply because I conceived the song in a dream. Literally, I woke up one Saturday morning with the opening riff just running through my mind, so I leapt out of bed (much to the bemusement of my long-suffering wife), and then spent the next eight hours closeted away in my home studio. By the end, I’d recorded the whole song from end to end and lost the entire day in the process… but it was worth it!
Another big part of the puzzle is Rich who spent a lot of time hanging out in my house working on the songs with me once the early drafts were done. His solos add so much to the songs, as do his vocal harmonies (particularly on ‘Corruption’ where we both went to town on the backing vocals) and he also spent a great deal of time helping to program the synth drums to represent what Ches was working out in the studio. Jola also made a substantial contribution and, once the demos were fleshed out, it was her job to put down her bass lines so that we had as complete a demo as possible to work from when we actually got out to the studio. So, although the writing usually starts with me, the songs are only complete when each member of the band has added their own unique texture to the piece and I have to say that it’s always exciting when the four of us are in the studio, feeling our way through a new song for the first time.
Well, the title is the name of a well-known Salvador Dali painting and it’s also used by Stephen King in the novel Misery when Paul tries to explain the process of writing. “Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one,” is the way that Paul puts it, and I think that description is apt. Perhaps it’s something about the creative impulse, but it seems for so many to be rooted in that innate ability to remember the heartache or the joy of a particular moment in time and to be able to articulate it, through lyrics, through music or both. That, to me, is a large part of the reason that music can move a person so: when I listen to ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd or ‘Right where it belongs’ by Nine Inch Nails, I get goosebumps from the sheer power of what they’ve created and I think that the phrase, ‘Persistence of Memory’, perfectly sums that up. It’s the thoughts that race through the head at twilight, the regrets of deeds gone undone and words left unsaid, and that’s very much what was channelled into this album.
In terms of individual songs, the album deals with those twilight regrets in a number of different ways, not least the destructive power of a failure to communicate with those whom you love, whether it be by accidental omission in the face of technology or via deliberate deception. There’s a vein running through the whole album detailing those sorts of issues, whether it be ‘Corruption’, which juxtaposes the physical corruption of ill-health and the spiritual corruption of deceit; or ‘Lost Hope’, which looks at how technology strips away our ability to communicate openly with those whom we would wish to spend our lives. They’re dark themes, perhaps, but I think that they resonate with anyone trying to find their place in this rapidly changing world.
First and foremost is literature. I am never without a book on hand and I can’t imagine a life without them. It seems to me that, as technology increases, there’s an endless search for methods of entertainment, but the more convoluted the method of delivery, the less it seems to hold the attention. There’s something about the way that a book can stimulate the imagination that is so special and I can lose myself in a book for hours given half a chance. Give me a book and a record and I’m gone for even longer!
In many ways, a good record should be like a good book – it should have a musical flow which, I think, can be compared to a narrative arc in a story; it should have themes that resonate with the listener and, if it’s done right, it should leave the listener feeling a touch bereft, much like a good book does when you reach the final page.
Aside from music, I love to travel and I spent a good deal of time abroad in my twenties, largely in Poland, a country I’ve come to consider my second home. Travelling is a wonderful thing to do because it separates you from a lot of the elements that tie you into a particular place. I can understand the desire to accumulate numerous possessions, hell my record collection takes up half the house (!), but there is something liberating about leaving all that behind and simply starting from scratch in an unfamiliar place. I have no idea what the future holds, but I hope that it will bring new opportunities to travel, whether it be with the band (as we did when we recorded in Italy), or as an individual.
The cover concept is directly related to the themes of the album. The central character, although it may not be immediately obvious, has a gun to her head but what is coming out our thoughts and emotions rather than blood and brains, so I like to think of it as a metaphorical, rather than literal, weapon.
As for the involvement, well art is hugely important to me. Up to a point either Jola or I have been involved in every aspect of album design and layout, but this time we decided to seek outside help and the obvious choice was Andy Pilkington of Very Metal Art. We’d already worked with Andy, as he designed both our logo and the lyric video for ‘Daylight Fades’, the single from our last EP, and we knew how good he was, but nothing prepared us for what he produced here. I didn’t give Andy a brief and, to be honest, I felt that any idea he had was liable to trump any images bouncing around in my mind, so instead I gave him the full album demo and the meanings behind the songs. He went off and thought about it for a while and then, with just a few brief discussions about the format, he created it all. If there’d been a need for greater input from my side, I would surely have been there, but Andy instinctively knew what we needed just from listening to the demo and that, to me, is amazing. The cover art is a masterpiece and aside from being absolutely stunned by it, I had very little to do with it. I love to be involved in all aspects of the music and its presentation, but sometimes it’s better to step back and let the experts do their jobs. Andy is an expert and a true artist and his artwork are simply amazing.
With regard album art in general, all of us in the band grew up with music as a physical thing and we all recognise the importance of presenting a record as a complete package. There’s nothing more disappointing than buying an album by a band only to find that there’s some cheap, photoshopped image on the cover and no thought given to the layout. Perhaps that’s OK if you rely on the digital market, but I have retained the belief that a record is best when it’s a physical thing, beautifully packaged and with detailed liner notes. That way it becomes a thing of lasting value and I very much hope that the people who buy this record will enjoy the special gatefold design that Andy created for it. He gave the album a visual identity and that was very important to us from the moment we first decided to do this.
Well, when we did the last EP (‘Closed to the light’), Ches was very new to the band so, although he was absolutely brilliant, he was still getting used to playing with the band, whereas by the time we got to the album, we’d played together so much that there was much more a feeling of the band being a cohesive unit, and I think that made a big difference.
Certainly, as a writer, I feel freer because, and with no disrespect to previous members of the band, I think there’s a chemistry in the band itself that just works now and that really started when Ches joined the band. Rich, Jola, Ches… they’re all remarkable musicians and they each have their own tastes, but they’re also open to trying new things and that is just brilliant. Jola’s exceptionally supportive and is always making suggestions about how we might develop, which might, in part, be because of her jazz background. Rich, as well, has a very eclectic taste and he often adds elements that might not be immediately obvious, but they serve to make the songs much more interesting.
Ches, as well, is so open-minded. You know, in the past, if I’d turned up at practice with a drum machine and said “right, we’re going to do a song where there’s one looped guitar part and no one plays for about four minutes…” it would have been met with a horrified silence, whereas Ches just looked at me and said, “Oh that’s cool, I have a sample pad I’ve been wanting to try!”
It’s amazing – it has opened up whole new vistas for us, it has made me very excited about what we’re going to do next and it’s all down to the rest of the band who are not only talented but also totally cool about pushing musical boundaries.
That’s a really interesting question, and quite complex. Firstly, I am a huge metal fan, and there is a massive amount of music out there that is very inspiring, particularly in the underground scene. Bands like Coilguns, Heads, A light within, Ohhms, The Heretic Order, Boss Keloid, Torqued, Ramage inc… and, in fact, there was a band I heard for the first time yesterday, Scarlean – they’re all doing something different and they stand out, to me at least, because of that. I’d say that as a music fan I’m always looking for that passion and sense of inspiration, regardless of genre, possibly because of the music that so inspired me as a teenager.
That said, I do find some elements of modern rock and metal uninspiring and think that the main reason is that there seems to be a real lack of willingness, particularly in the more mainstream metal world, to take risks. Perhaps it’s because we live in this internet-dominated world where the second you do anything that fans don’t like, you can be pilloried instantly. Take Suicide Silence They took a huge risk with their latest album and, to be honest, I love that record because it digs into a much more raw and honest vibe than some of their earlier stuff, but man they got lambasted from every angle. And to this day, I can’t decide if everyone who was screaming about that record really hated it, or if they were driven to hate it because everyone else did and to go against the grain is to be ostracised by all and sundry.
Whatever it is, it does seem to have fed into a number of bands simply towing the line and remaining within genre boundaries for fear of being cast out, and that’s a great shame. When I was growing up, I was listening to bands like Swans, Sonic Youth, Senser, Kill II this, Nirvana and Alice in Chains and they were just casting boundaries aside and doing what felt right to them. I thought, as I got older and the internet became a more commonplace, those boundaries would disappear altogether, but it almost seems like the niches have gotten deeper and more entrenched in certain areas and I think that’s a great shame. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I feel that all bands have to evolve and change – I can’t imagine digging a techno-influenced AC/DC album for example! But, I do feel that bands should be able to follow their muse, wherever it may lie, and it saddens me when artists seem to be so hampered by a fear of backlash on the net.
However, there’s so…. so much great stuff just nestled away, and if people are open to something different it’s there with only a little effort. So, I think there are grounds for hope. Certainly, I have been amazed and humbled by how many websites and magazines have taken the trouble to support what we’re doing (and thank you, by the way, for this very interesting interview), so, on balance, I think that maybe the perception of stagnation is out of proportion to the number of interesting and unique artists who are actually out there just waiting for an audience to stumble across them.
Interview by Alex Milazzo – Copyright 2017 © Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.